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Swimming and Water Aerobics: Fun Ways to Manage Your Glucose Levels

Published: 10/24/22 10:15 am
By Tom Lang

Exercising in water can be a fun and effective way to stay active and manage your glucose levels. Different forms of water exercises can also make it easier to deal with joint problems or other chronic pain while exercising.

Swimming and water aerobics can be enjoyable exercise, from very gentle to an intense fat burning and muscle building workout that can push your heart and lungs into overdrive.

The buoyancy of water makes aquatic exercise low impact so it’s almost impossible to injure yourself. Regardless of your fitness level, or if you have arthritis, inflamed joints, or other health issues, swimming, walking in water or water aerobics might be the perfect exercise for you. They are a great way to manage your diabetes, reduce stress and have fun doing it.

Swimming as exercise

For people with type 2 diabetes, exercising in water can be just as effective at improving glucose levels as land-based workouts.

Swimming has been shown to boost cardiovascular health by boosting your heart rate, which in turn helps to lower blood pressure, strengthens your heart muscle, and improves circulation. Swimming involves all the major muscles; during exercise muscle cells absorb glucose more efficiently, removing it quickly from the bloodstream.

The buoyancy of water is easy on your joints, so that makes water aerobics a good choice if you have joint problems, chronic pain, or are recovering from injury. It's also popular among seniors and pregnant women.

Though almost any type of exercise in a pool is low impact, you can easily make the workout more challenging by simply doing more repetitions of each move, by moving faster during the workout, or by using special water resistant weights, gloves, or other water aerobics tools.

Water exercise lowers glucose levels

Exercise, on land or in water, helps you to keep your blood glucose in the normal range for a greater percentage of time, independent of insulin, and this decreases your risk for cardiovascular disease and other diabetes-related complications. And regular exercise, including all kinds of water-based activity, is crucial for improving your body composition, which means reducing your body fat and increasing your lean muscle.

Lean muscle burns more calories, and more blood sugar, than fat does, even when you are sitting or at rest.

Walking in water

Even if you can’t swim, walking in waist-deep water or doing a water aerobics class are effective ways to better manage your blood glucose.

In a review of studies examining aquatic exercises and blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes, water exercisers were found to have reduced the A1C of participants by the same amount as people doing land-based exercise. The water-based exercises included walking or running in a pool, water cycling and various types of water-based fitness classes.

Being active in water is also a great way to reduce stress, and the activity can help you to sleep better, too.

Exercising in water is more gentle

Swimming, walking in waist or chest-deep water, running in deep water, and water aerobics all put virtually no stress on your feet and joints.

In fact, when you’re standing in waist-deep water, you only have to support 50% of your body weight. When you move to neck-deep water, 90% of your body weight is supported by the water.

Many people find that they can do exercises in water that they can’t do on land due to pain in their joints, lack of flexibility, or muscle weakness. This is important because running on land, and other land-based exercises, may cause foot injuries, like blisters, that can be slow to heal and prone to infection if you have diabetes.

These are just some of the benefits of water-based exercise, and while no exercise is perfect, swimming or water aerobics are easy to adjust to your needs, restrictions, and abilities.

You can make any water-based activity or exercise easier, or more strenuous, simply by adjusting the size and speed of your movements, by adding or reducing weights you use, by wearing aquatic gloves, or by wearing a flotation device and running in deeper water. Water exercise while listening to music, or participating in a group class, can be a lot of fun and a way to meet and make new friends.

As with any new exercise program, unless you are already very fit, start with short swim sessions, or short water aerobics and gradually increase your time to 30-60 minute sessions as you increase your endurance.

Don't be discouraged if you need to take a short rest every few minutes. These short rest breaks won't reduce the effectiveness of your exercise and, in fact, they will enable you to stay active in the water for longer periods overall. 

Safety Precautions

  1. Remember to always check your glucose before, during and after you exercise.

  2. Take your medication as your doctor recommends

  3. Always have juice, a snack, glucose meter and test strips available, in a waterproof container.

  4. Don’t swim or exercise in a pool alone. Ideally, have an exercise buddy or do a water aerobics class with others who know how to help you in case of a sudden drop in your blood sugar.

  5. If there is a lifeguard, let him or her know that you have diabetes.

  6. Wear a diabetes medical ID bracelet while you are in the water.

  7. To protect your feet, you may want to wear lightweight water shoes in the pool and shower sandals in the locker room, to lower the risk of bruising or cutting your feet and of getting athlete’s foot.

  8. Examine your feet after you leave the pool to check for cuts, bruises, or abrasions.

  9. Make sure that your continuous glucose monitor, insulin pump, and any other diabetes wearable is water (and chlorine) resistant. Check with the manufacturer to be sure. If you use an insulin pump, ask your doctor or healthcare provider if it’s safe for you to disconnect while you’re swimming or doing water aerobics.

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About the authors

Tom Lang has worked as a research assistant at the pharmaceutical giant Hoechst in Germany and at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Trained as a biologist,... Read the full bio »