Swimming with Diabetes

If you’re overweight, or if you have joint or balance problems, foot pain from nerve damage, or other physical limitations – all of which are common among people who have diabetes – the swimming pool is one of the best places to get active

Swimming with Diabetes

Because your weight is effectively reduced by 90 per cent in the water, swimming gives overweight people the buoyancy they need to keep their aerobic sessions going longer and move their bodies in ways they might not be able to do otherwise. Swimming is excellent aerobic exercise with an added benefit over walking: it exercises both the upper and lower body.

Splash in class

A water aerobics class may be the best way to get a full-body work-out in the pool – and you don’t even need to know how to swim. If there’s up-beat music playing and you’re with a nice group of people, you may even feel a little bit as if you’re at a party. Want to get competitive? Find out whether your pool has a water volleyball team.

Get a leg up with a float

Your buoyancy in the water is already protecting your joints from impact, but if you need even more lift, a float or kickboard will help. They’re also handy if you’re not confident of your swimming ability and want extra help in staying afloat. People who just want to exercise their legs can grab a float by its sides and propel themselves through the water with leg power.

Work up to a 30-minute swim

Swim one length of a 25m pool and then rest for 30 seconds. If that didn’t challenge you, alternate swimming for 5 minutes and resting for 1 minute. Each time you visit the pool, add gradually to your swimming distance, resting as often as necesssary, until you reach 30 minutes of total swim time each session. To steadily improve your aerobic fitness, go swimming three times a week.

If your sight is impaired, ask about lane swimming sessions

Many pools set aside times exclusively for lane swimming, during which swim lanes are roped off and recreational swimmers splashing around are prohibited. Having your own lane reduces the chances that you’ll collide with someone you can’t see coming.

Protect wounds while in the water

Swimming when you have an open wound isn’t a good idea because it increases your risk of infection. Rather than missing your aqua-work-out when you have a cut or sore, ask your doctor whether a waterproof bandage or other type of skin barrier is appropriate for your situation. Be sure to clear the bandage with the pool’s lifeguard or manager before you jump in.

Be extra-alert for low blood-glucose symptoms

It may be harder when you’re in a pool to tell if you’re sweating or feeling weak – so be vigilant. Always take ‘breathers’ between lengths and get out of the pool as soon as you suspect your symptoms of diabetes to worsen.

Get clearance to keep food near the pool

If your blood glucose drops while you’re in the water, you may not have time to get to your locker to reach a snack. So keep a high- carbohydrate snack in a zip-lock plastic bag by the pool while you swim. If food is banned from the poolside, talk to the manager and explain your needs; they may make an exception, or may let you keep glucose tablets handy.

Keep your insulin pump cool on the beach

If you’re at the beach or an outdoor pool on a warm day and you want to disconnect your insulin pump and swim, keep the pump cool so the insulin doesn’t deteriorate. Place the insulin pump in a zip-lock plastic bag, wrap a small towel around it and place it in a chiller bag. Alternatively, check with your pump’s manufacturer to see if it offers a special protective, waterproof pouch for your model.

If you swim with your pump, recognise its limits

Some insulin pumps are advertised as being ‘waterproof’ (sometimes with the use of inserts to plug the vent holes), but read the instructions carefully about the limits of this protection. The waterproofing may only apply to near-the-surface use and may not apply if you’re diving more than a couple of metres under water. If you find that the tape on your infusion set keeps coming loose in the water, buy a very lightweight wetsuit T-shirt and wear that over the infusion set.

Protect your feet when swimming in a lake or in the sea – and even in pools

People with diabetes are prone to slower healing, and serious foot infections can even lead to amputation. Wearing water shoes or aqua socks when you’re swimming in the sea will help prevent injuries from rocks, sea life, glass or other debris. Wearing protection in man-made swimming areas isn’t a bad idea either; the concrete floors of some pools are abrasive.

Apply water-resistant sunscreen when you swim outside

The water may feel cool against your skin, but you could still get burned under the hot sun, even on overcast days. Sunburn is not healthy for anyone, but it’s particularly vexing for people with diabetes because it can take longer to heal and, if it’s bad, could possibly raise your blood glucose.

Shower immediately after swimming

Otherwise, the chlorine from the pool water will dry out your skin and might cause it to crack, which will make you more vulnerable to infection.

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