Swimming benefits for people with diabetes

Information for people with diabetes about the benefits of swimming as exercise.

If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, regular exercise is vital for your overall health and well-being. If you’re looking for a form of physical activity that can help you maintain better control over your blood sugar levels, you may want to consider swimming. Swimming is not only fun, it provides many other benefits:

  • Aerobic exercise with muscle toning and strengthening – swimming works the entire body, including the cardiovascular system, without increased stress on the body’s skeletal system, joints and muscles.
  • Keeps joints and ligaments loose and flexible, increases lung volume, strengthens the heart and burns calories.
  • Improves mental health – exercise helps release “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, called endorphins. The stretching and flexing of the muscles used while swimming can help the body relax, which in turn, can assist in decreasing anxiety and depression.
  • Appropriate for all ages – kids love spending time in the pool or at the beach, but swimming isn’t just for children. Adults (young and old) who regularly swim are healthier than those who have a sedentary lifestyle.

The American Diabetes Association  recommends planning ahead and knowing your body’s typical blood glucose response to exercise in order to keep your blood glucose from going too low or high. Your blood glucose response to exercise will vary depending on:

  • Your blood glucose level before you start swimming
  • The intensity of your swimming
  • The length of time you are actively swimming
  • The changes you have made to insulin doses

Michigan State University Extension recommends talking with your doctor before starting any new exercise program – it’s important to know that swimming is a safe and appropriate form of physical activity for your type of diabetes.

Once you receive your doctor’s approval, the Cleveland Clinic offers the following safety tips:

  1. Check your blood sugar before and after swimming until you are aware of how your body responds to exercise.
  2. Whether you have type 1 or 2 diabetes, make sure your blood sugar is less than 250 mg/dl before exercising. For people with type 1 diabetes, exercising with a blood sugar higher than 250 mg/dl may cause ketoacidosis, which can be a life threatening condition resulting in lack of insulin in the blood.
  3. Do a 5-minute warm-up before and a 5-minute cool down after exercising.
  4. Drink plenty of water before, during and after swimming to prevent dehydration.
  5. Be prepared for any episodes of low blood sugar. Have something available that can bring sugar levels up, such as hard candy, glucose tablets or 4 oz. of juice.
  6. Wear a medical alert ID band. If an emergency occurs, EMS will know how to treat you properly.
  7. Always have access to a cell phone.
  8. Avoid exercising in extremely hot or cold temperatures.
  9. Protect your feet, especially if you are swimming at a beach location.

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