There’s a reason resistance training, running and even Zumba® classes have gone aquatic: Water increases the challenge of resistance training, balance training and cardiovascular training while potentially cushioning the joints, burning calories, building muscle and improving insulin sensitivity.
Simply standing chest-deep in a pool may strengthen your respiratory muscles in a way that’s similar to exercise: Your lungs and diaphragm must push against the corset-like force of the water, working harder with each inhale and exhale. Your heart may also get a similar boost: The added force pushes blood from your limbs to your core, possibly increasing heart rate and circulation with the bonus effect of decreasing swelling, especially in the lower body. And that’s all before you begin to move. (Be sure to talk with your diabetes care team before starting any fitness routine.)
Once you start to churn, you also start to burn. In water, you are in control of how hard you work. That’s because water resistance depends on force of movement. The harder you press against the water, the harder it presses you back. If you gently move your arms through the water, it may feel like you’re floating. If you move them with a lot of force, you may feel your muscles really have to work to push through.
To ease into water training, you may want to start by simply walking around the pool. The added resistance of the water can make this easy activity feel harder. Try walking backward as well as forward, and aim to keep a similar pace as you would on land. Experiment with moving your arms in the water, pumping them as you walk and opening them to the side, then squeezing them forward. Notice that the faster you move, the harder the movement gets.
As moving through water becomes more familiar, you may want to swim laps or join an aqua aerobics class. (Many local YMCAs offer aquatic exercise classes.) Swimming laps may condition your whole body, and may increase your cardiovascular levels, endurance and strength. If you haven’t been in the pool in a while, swimming with a kickboard or enrolling in swim lessons may help you feel more comfortable. In a class, you may want to stand near the pool wall so you have something to rest against if you need to take a break. You can also ease up by moving a little slower.
People living with diabetes who exercise in the pool should take extra precautions. When doing more than swimming, water shoes can be worn to help protect the feet. Many pools have snack bars, but you should always bring your own, too. If possible, keep a piece of candy or a small juice box right at the edge of the pool so it’s within arm’s reach. Also, tell the lifeguard on duty that you have diabetes. Lifeguards are there to help keep those using the pool safe; the more information they have about the people under their watch, the easier that is to do.
Exercise can cause blood sugar levels to drop, so test your blood sugar before a workout and adjust with food or insulin as needed. Many pumps are waterproof. If you plan to wear yours in the water, be sure to read any special instructions that came with it. Women who wear a one-piece swimsuit may have an easier time keeping their pump in place. Men may want to look for swim trunks with pockets.
If you have your pick of pools, saline or saltwater pools are becoming increasingly popular due to the lower levels of chlorination. If you have a natural body of water nearby, such as a lake or ocean, walking thigh-deep in the water can be an alternative to swimming or doing a choreographed workout. To stay safe in the water, avoid working out alone. (Read more about staying safe in the water.)
Jessica Cassity is a health reporter for SELF, Fitness and Shape magazines, and the author of Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You. She is a Portland-based Pilates and yoga teacher, and blogs at thehappyandhealthyblog.com. Cassity is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience