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Swimming Exercise for Diabetes

Diabetes Exercise: Consider Swimming

We all know that eating well and exercising regularly are keys to good health. This is particularly true for people that suffer from diabetes.

Yet, maintaining a healthy weight can be challenging, if you are overweight and/or have joint pain or other maladies. Walking, running or even bicycling may be too painful to incorporate into a consistent fitness regimen.

Swimming exercise for diabetes, however, is an efficient, low-impact workout. Diabetics may consider swimming laps, joining a swim team (even masters!), taking part in a water aerobics class or deep water running. All of these activities are inherently social, which may also help encourage you to get to the pool for your exercise. And - most importantly - swimming is fun!

I have had Type 1 diabetes for a decade. When first diagnosed, I wrongly believed that I would have to give up my love of running and other fitness activities. Not only have I completed seven marathons (26.2 miles) since then, but I have added cycling and swimming exercise to my routine. Next year, I expect to complete a triathlon!

No matter your fitness level, age, or whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you should consider swimming. No need to buy expensive running shoes or sports equipment. A simple swimsuit, goggles and swim cap is all you need. Many local fitness clubs have lap pools available for members, as well as organized water exercise classes.

Swimming can help you lose or maintain weight, build muscle and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. If you or a loved one has diabetes, consider swimming exercise for diabetes!

Diabetic swimmers show off their insulin pumps

Diabetic swimmers show off their insulin pumps

Health Benefits of Swimming

  • Burns moderate to high number of calories per minute
  • Low impact workout
  • Go at your own pace
  • Inexpensive gear
  • Can be enjoyed at just about any age
  • Swimming is available year-round
  • Work a range of muscle groups for overall fitness
  • Peaceful and quiet
  • Little to no sweat or overheating
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Aids in weight loss or maintenance
  • Promotes feelings of well-being
  • Revitalizes and helps you feel young

Swimming Exercise Basics: Before You Start

Before starting any exercise routine, including swimming, be sure to consult your doctor to determine any specific health risks or considerations you should keep in mind.

After you get the green light from your medical professional, you simply need to find a well-fitting swimsuit, goggles and a swim cap (if you desire).

Many communities in the United States and Europe have a public pool that can be accessed for a low daily cost, or with relatively inexpensive membership. Be sure to ask for senior or disability discounts, if they are offered.

If you are planning on lap swimming, check the pool hours and other rules regarding the speed of swimming lanes. Usually, outside lanes are for the slowest swimmers, while interior lanes are for those that swim faster.

Diabetics should always check their blood sugar levels before any type of exercise. Those that are insulin-dependent, or people on blood glucose lowering oral medications may need to eat a small snack before jumping in the pool. If you are planning on swimming for more than an hour, you may need to bring test supplies and additional energy sources to continue the workout without experiencing low blood sugar.

Keep in mind that exercise of a duration more than 20-30 minutes may have the effect both of immediately lowering blood glucose levels, but also keeping average levels lower for up to 24 hours afterward. Diabetics who are prone to lows and highs should test more frequently during this time period and be sure to carry an emergency snack.

Swimming and Diabetes

Safety Tips for Swimming with Diabetes

  • Inform the lifeguard, coach and/or class instructor that you have diabetes and tell them the signs of high and low blood sugar
  • Wear a medical ID bracelet with your emergency information
  • Test your blood glucose before, during and after swimming as required by your doctor or whenever you experience signs of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia
  • Eat a small, light snack at least 30 minutes before swimming - preferably with carbohydrates and protein
  • If you plan an open water swim, do not go alone - swim with a buddy or have a helper in a nearby rowboat
  • Carry extra emergency insulin supplies (diabetes test kit, glucose tabs, insulin, needles, pump supplies, fast acting carbohydrate snacks and a cell phone to call 911 if necessary)

Other Swimming Exercises for Diabetes

If swimming your laps is not your thing, there are other swimming exercises for diabetes and other health conditions.

One of my favorite water classes is deep water running. Using a floatation belt around the waist, the swimmer can keep their head and shoulders above water while moving arms and legs as you would running on land. An instructor leads the class, suggesting different leg drills, speeds and resistance exercises. Music may accompany the workout.

Water running is beneficial for a number of reasons. Runners that are injured may still be able to workout in the pool. Moreover, the added resistance of the water can result in stronger muscles that are more efficient when running on land.

Water aerobics is another great swimming exercise for diabetes. There is a wide variety from which to choose, including weight classes, cardio classes, and yoga-related classes. Select a class based on interest, schedule, affordability and more.

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For diabetics, swimming exercise classes are popular because of convenience and the fun factor. Unlike walking, running or cycling, swimming allows you to stay close to your diabetes supplies for quick treatment if necessary. The buoyancy of water helps minimize stress on the body, yet an effective workout is easy to obtain given the added effort you have to make against the resistance of the water.

Swimming is a healthful exercise for diabetics of all ages

Swimming is a healthful exercise for diabetics of all ages

Diabetes and Exercise

Open Water Swimming for Diabetes

Open water swimming can be more exciting, yet slightly riskier than activities in a pool.

Without the close confinement of an indoor facility, including instructors and lifeguards, additional planning and preparation is required for people with diabetes.

To begin with, solo open water swimming is not recommended for most people, let alone diabetics. Unlike running, walking or cycling, it is not easy to stop by a home or business to ask for assistance. Moreover, extreme swings in blood glucose levels can leave a swimmer incapacitated and quickly in danger.

Bring along another friend to swim with you, and/or request assistance from a friend or colleague to row alongside you.

Did you know that diabetics have swum the English Channel? Diabetics have competed in IronMan events. Diabetics have even participated in - and won! - swimming events in the Olympics.

Don't let a diagnosis of diabetes slow you down! If you are already athletic, simply work with your endocrinologist to help you prepare an exercise plan. New to exercise? Swimming is one of the easiest, most forgiving workouts!

Open water swimming, lap swimming and swimming exercise classes are all fun and enjoyable, especially for diabetics who may not be used to regular workouts.

The freedom and ease of gliding through the water can make even the most strenuous fitness routines feel comfortable and fun.

Why not try swimming exercise for diabetes?

Swimming is a low impact exercise for people with diabetes

Swimming is a low impact exercise for people with diabetes


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 04, 2012:

Thanks Melovy - I took the approach that not all people love to swim laps. I have really enjoyed both deep water running and water aerobics and, I must say, there is something fun/childlike about playing in the water and getting exercise. :) Best, Steph

Yvonne Spence from UK on October 04, 2012:

This is a comprehensive article. I don't have diabetes, but I do love swimming so was drawn to read it. I had never seen water running until we were in Australia a couple of years ago, where some pools also had lanes specifically for walking. It hasn't yet caught on in the UK.

This will be very useful to many people.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 29, 2012:

Thank you so much! I do hope that the hub will encourage both diabetics and non-diabetics to enjoy swimming exercise. Best to you, Steph

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 29, 2012:

Great hub ----informative and well written. A must read for those, struggling with diabetes and otherwise also useful for everyone. Thanks for sharing.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 28, 2012:

Thank you teaches! Swimming is a super exercise for anyone, and especially diabetics. I appreciate the read, comment and vote up! Thanks again, Steph

Dianna Mendez on September 28, 2012:

This really great information for those who suffer from diabetes. I didn't realize swimming could be so theraputic and benefit the blood sugar. Voted up, useful, interesting and pinned.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 28, 2012:

Thanks FreezeFrame - Definitely do not let age or any other prejudgements hinder you from trying swimming or water aerobics. I can attest to sore muscles following water running and water aerobics - more so than after a 10 mile run! Best, Steph

FreezeFrame34 from Charleston SC on September 28, 2012:

Great hub! Don't let any medical diagnoses hinder you! I love water aerobics; the very first class I took was taught by an eighty-six year old feisty woman; I woke up the next morning and every joint hurt (in a good way).

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 28, 2012:

Hi Ruchira,

Oh, the treadmill.... (dreadmill). I hope that your friend will consider swimming or other water classes. Its much more fun and social. Please send her my best, Steph

Ruchira from United States on September 28, 2012:

Great hub, steph.

I have a friend suffering from this disease and i will fwd this informative hub to her. She has been on the treadmill for ever n finds it boring.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 28, 2012:

Thanks Faith Reaper - I guess my passion for helping others can be put to good use. I love encouraging people with diabetes and also enjoy writing about healthy living and exercise. So appreciate the comment. All the best, Steph

Faith Reaper from southern USA on September 28, 2012:

Really great insightful hub here, Steph! Very detailed and well-written piece, and gives hope too. Voted Way Up God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 28, 2012:

Thank you kashmir! I really hope that people with diabetes realize that fun workouts, like swimming, can help improve their health in a number of ways. Best to you, Steph

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on September 28, 2012:

All great information and advice within the well written hub to help all who may have to exercise because they have diabetes.

Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 28, 2012:

Thank you for stopping by, reading and commenting! All the best, Steph

Annabelle Tyler on September 28, 2012:

Great article. Very thorough, and it was nice to hear about your personal experience. Voted up!

Ice from New York, New York on September 28, 2012:

very nice ..

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 28, 2012:

Thanks Bill! Glad you found it uplifting. So many people look at diabetes as a negative (yes, indeed, it can be difficult to live with), but its good to know that diabetics can still do most - if not all of - the things they used to enjoy before a diagnosis. Swimming is such a wonderful sport. I hope more people with diabetes enjoy it. Best, Steph

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2012:

Great suggestions, Steph, but more than that, this is an uplifting hub that tells every diabetic that there is a life out there to live and enjoy. Great job!

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