Hiking and skiing in the mountains may wreak havoc on the blood sugar levels of those with type 1 diabetes, new research suggests.
Exercise offers many benefits — such as improved heart health, better insulin sensitivity and quality of life — for people with diabetes and is often recommended by their doctors.
However, it can also trigger hypoglycemia — low blood sugar — in people with diabetes during and after a workout.
“These findings suggest that exercise performed shortly after exposure to high altitude may increase the risk of exercise-mediated hypoglycemia,” said study author Cory Dugan, from the University of Western Australia.
A severe drop in blood sugar requires quick action because there’s a risk that the person will suffer seizures, become unconscious or die.
To assess how exercise at high altitudes affects blood sugar in people with diabetes, researchers measured blood sugar levels in seven people with type 1 diabetes before and after they did two indoor cycling sessions that mimicked conditions at sea level and at high altitude.
After one hour of exercise at a simulated altitude of 4,200 meters (about half the height of Mount Everest) and during recovery, the participants’ blood sugar levels were significantly lower.
The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism and show that people with diabetes may need to closely monitor their blood sugar when doing high-altitude activities.
“We ask that future guidelines consider these findings to increase the safety of people with type 1 diabetes when traveling from low- to high-altitude areas like the mountains without any acclimatization,” Dugan said in a journal news release.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on blood sugar monitoring.
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, news release, Dec. 22, 2021