Exercising with Type 1 Diabetes (T1DM)

This article was contributed and written in conjunction with Accredited Exercise Physiologist and type 1 diabetic, Craig Whitbourne. Scroll down to read more about Craig and Zoe’s story.

Why and how you should exercise with type 1 diabetes (T1DM)

National Diabetes Week, from 14 – 21 July 2024, is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness for a condition that affects around 1.3 million Australians. There are many ways to manage life with diabetes and one of the easiest changes to make is incorporating exercise into your routine!

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond adequately to the insulin that is produced.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes (T1DM): which is characterised by the autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
  • Type 2 diabetes (T2DM): which is the most common form and is characterised by a reduced production of insulin and an inability of the bodies tissues to respond fully to insulin.

T1DM is most commonly diagnosed in children aged 10-14 but you can be diagnosed with T1DM at any age. Receiving a T1DM diagnosis is life changing as there is currently no cure and managing this condition takes a multi-faceted approach that includes changes to diet, lifestyle and exercise.


There are plenty of benefits to using exercise to manage T1DM but for some, taking that first step can be daunting. One of the easiest ways to incorporate exercise into your diabetes management plan is walking.

Studies have shown that walking for just five minutes within an hour of having a meal has a measurable effect on moderating your blood glucose levels by improving your muscles’ insulin sensitivity.

Once you are comfortable with incorporating regular exercise into your routine, experts recommend at least 30 minutes of walking a day to maintain or improve your overall health. For many people, finding 30 minutes for a walk can be very difficult so it may be easier to break this down into shorter periods. Some simple ways to increase your steps are to:

  • Park your car further away or get off public transport a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
  • Try walk and talk phone conversations or meetings.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Of course there are many other ways to be active and types of exercise that can help you manage diabetes – cycling, swimming and resistance training just to name a few.

walk to work


Utilising food

Bringing a small snack on your walk can alleviate some of the stress that comes with exercising with diabetes. The amount and type of food you will need when walking depends on when you last ate, how hungry you are, your blood sugar levels and how long you are exercising for.

A yoghurt pouch or a piece of fruit, such as banana, are good examples of pre- and post-exercise snacks.

Pre-exercise and post-exercise blood glucose checks 

Before and after exercising, it’s important to check your blood glucose levels, as this can provide you with information on what type of exercise you can do and whether or not you should bring a snack.

Some high-intensity exercises like uphill cycling, running or competitive sport can increase your blood glucose due to a stress hormone that is released.

Where to get help 

Many people find it difficult to make exercise a part of their lives and for various reasons (health issues, injuries, busy schedules, lack of experience), they don’t know where to start. If you’re struggling with not knowing who to turn to for exercise help, there are professionals who are qualified to work with people with diabetes, disabilities, injuries and other health conditions.

Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs) are exercise professionals who are trained to help clients become more active and help them manage their diabetes better with exercise.  You can get a simple referral from your GP to an AEP in your area to get started and by doing this, you can also get Medicare rebates for seeing an AEP!

Find your local exercise professional today.


Craig Whitbourne has been an AEP in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne for over 20 years. He has helped a range of clients with diabetes become more active through his role at Northern Health. 

Craig himself has been a type 1 diabetic for nearly 30 years and unfortunately, his daughter Zoe was also diagnosed with T1DM as a 9-year-old.

Zoe is now 12 years old, and Craig and Zoe have challenged themselves to walk over 85km from Dromana to Heidelberg (Victoria, Australia), in 4 days to raise money and awareness for T1DM in the July 2024 Victora School Holidays.

“Zoe and I were having a chat at the start of the year about what we might be able to do to help find a cure for T1DM and we decided to try and raise some money. In the end we decided to do a long walk together to raise money for the St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) who are doing great things in the space of T1DM research,” shares Craig.

Pictured above: AEP Craig Whitbourne and daughter, Zoe. 

The steps Zoe and Craig take to manage their Blood Glucose Levels (BGLs)

Craig says, “It takes a variety of things to manage your BGL’s in the best way and planning ahead as best as you can always helps.  Things like eating good food, modifying insulin doses, using exercise mode on our insulin pump, ensuring you always carry some glucose tablets or jelly beans and having regular reviews with your health professionals are some examples.”

In general, how has T1DM affected your day-to-day life?

“The effect living with T1DM has on your life cannot be understated.  As Zoe and I always say to each other, T1DM never sleeps.  But we always reflect on this and feel that if we take the right steps we can manage it well.  This involves things such as eating well, counting carbohydrates we eat with each meal, thinking about what we are doing activity-wise that day, adjusting insulin doses as required, wearing an insulin pump and CGM on your body 24 hours a day and remaining active.”

What essential items are you packing in your bag to prepare for your fundraising walk? 

“Snacks such as bananas and yoghurt, glucose tablets, jelly beans and of course warm clothes and raincoats, given it is winter in Melbourne and freezing cold!”

In your own words, what do you hope T1DM research will achieve?

“Ultimately, we would love the research to one day find a cure for T1DM and also prevent its onset.  But we would love to see further improvements in technology to make living with T1DM easier.  Over the nearly 30 years I have been living with T1DM there has been a great improvement in ways to help manage the condition”.

What is your exercise advice for newly diagnosed diabetics? 

“It can be challenging and sometimes daunting to get started, particularly when hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) is a risk, but once you have educated yourself through great resources available through Diabetes Australia and your healthcare team, you will soon realise how much benefit you gain from being active.”

Find out more and donate to Zoe and Craig’s fundraising today.


Written by Craig Whitbourne, Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) and Accredited Exercise Scientist (AES), in collaboration with Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA).