The Benefits Of Swimming If You Are Living With Type 1 Diabetes

Thursday, January 27, 2022 - 14:10

As the summer comes around and you begin to plan some warm-weather getaways, you might be itching to know: is it safe to go swimming if you or a loved one are living with type 1 diabetes?

Here’s the short answer: Yes! When you take safety measures and get the okay from your healthcare team, swimming is fun and a great form of exercise that may help you manage your type 1 diabetes.

Benefits Of Swimming For People Living With Type 1 Diabetes

Regular physical activity has many health benefits for all people, including people living with type 1 diabetes1. It can help you manage your blood glucose levels, in addition to numerous other benefits for your heart health, bone health, and emotional wellbeing2.

Your blood glucose changes depending on several things, including:

  • Exercise type [anaerobic or aerobic exercise].
  • The timing of your last meal.
  • The composition of your last meal.
  • Your current glucose levels.
  • The timing of your last insulin administration.

Leisure swimming is a form of aerobic exercise, while sprint swimming is a form of anaerobic exercise. Both are forms of exercise that can provide great benefits for the health of people living with type 1 diabetes.

A recent study had explored the relationship between swimming and blood glucose levels in male adolescents living with type 1 diabetes. The participants of similar age were split into two groups. Participants in both groups had their haemoglobin A1c [HbA1c] tested before and after the 10-week swim programme. Results showed significant improvements in HbA1c levels in participants who took part in the 10-week swimming prog, compared to participants who did not swim. The study suggested that engaging in swimming as part of a regular exercise routine may help in lowering your blood glucose levels.

Swimming Safety Tips

Are you ready to make the most of the summer and get swimming? Go for it! Here are some tips for staying safe and preventing emergencies based on expert consensus1.

  • Check your blood glucose levels before exercise. Since exercise will generally cause your blood glucose levels to go down as your body needs more energy, it is important that you check your glucose levels before swimming or engaging in other forms of exercise.
  • Check your insulin supply. Whether you have an insulin pump or take insulin injections, make sure you have a healthy supply and be ready to adjust your schedule in response to your glucose levels.
  • Ask your healthcare team about the use of your insulin pump in the water. If you use an insulin pump, keep in mind that not all pumps can be safely used in the water. It’s always a good idea to check the specific device manual for your insulin pump to confirm if it is waterproof.  It is also a good idea to keep extra adhesive tape to ensure your device stays secure whilst you are enjoying your swim. If you plan on going diving or engaging in other water sports, ask your healthcare team about device safety and anything else you should keep in mind.4 
  • Prepare a snack. If you are leaving your home to go swimming, take some prepared snacks with you to be prepared if your glucose levels fall. 
  • Prepare to take a break. If you are going to be engaging in swimming for a long period of time, prepare to take a break to eat something in case your glucose levels fall below a healthy threshold.
  • Stay hydrated. When we are immersed in water, we don’t notice that we are sweating or thirsty. Drink plenty of water regularly, especially if you are swimming in hot climates or outdoors.
  • Inform others about what to do in case of an emergency. It is unlikely that you will find yourself in an emergency situation, but whether or not you are living with type 1 diabetes, it is important to be prepared. If you need help while swimming it is important that friends and family know you are living with type 1 diabetes and who to call. If you are on your own, consider wearing an ID bracelet or necklace. 

When you take the right precautions and speak with your healthcare team, you can engage in any water sports that people who aren’t living with type 1 diabetes can.4 Speak to your healthcare team about resuming an exercise routine if you have elevated ketones, have recently experienced hypoglycaemia, or have had other diabetes-related complications.

Final Thoughts

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle whether or not you are living with type 1 diabetes. If you are living with type 1 diabetes, you can generally engage in all exercise and physical activity as people who are not living with type 1 diabetes.

When you swim, either for fun or for exercise, your glucose metabolism will change to adjust your energy needs. For this reason, you may need to check your glucose levels more often than normal and talk to your healthcare team about adjusting your insulin and meal timing.

Enjoy the summer as much as you can and feel free to make swimming part of your exercise plan during the warm months.

Reference

1. Riddell M, Gallen I, Smart C et al. Exercise management in type 1 diabetes: a consensus statement. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2017;5[5]:377-390.

2. Codella R, Terruzzi I, Luzi L. Why should people with type 1 diabetes exercise regularly?. Acta Diabetol. 2017;54[7]:615-630.

3. Qadir K, Zangana K. Effect of swimming program on glycemic control in male adolescents with type 1 diabetes mellitus. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2020;60[2].

4. Johnson R. A day in the life of a diabetic diver: the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society/Divers Alert Network protocol for diving with diabetes in action. Diving Hyperb Med. 2016;46[3]:181-185.