Swimming is a common and effective way to improve your cardiovascular fitness as the constant movement allows for blood and oxygen to be pumped more efficiently. Swimming is also a good sport for people with diabetic neuropathy as is utilises both upper and lower body muscles simultaneously. The intensity of a swimming workout is totally down to you, but caution should be taken if you are new to the sport as you are at risk of hypos.
Diabetes management when swimming
Swimming casually with type 1 diabetes
If you are only planning to swim once or twice a week, or simply swim recreationally every now and then, there is not necessarily the requirement for a detailed plan. However, there are a few useful tips you can follow.
In some cases, keeping your blood sugars higher than normal before swimming has been found to reduce the risk of hypos. However, speak to your healthcare professional to get an agreed level to aim for. If your blood sugars are lower than this before the session, then taking a hypo treatment could give you the required sugar boost. However, again, speak to your healthcare professional before making any changes to your diabetes management. Upon finishing your workout, it is also generally recommended to take onboard some more sugar, as well as consuming a big meal later on to avoid a hypo occurring later on in the day.
For the best advice for casual swimming, contact your healthcare professional.
Swimming regularly with type 1 diabetes
If you are planning to take up swimming on a more frequent basis, we advise that you speak to a healthcare professional beforehand to gain an assessment of your current health and help with the planning of your goals.
It is generally advised that beginners, who may not be used to consistent nature of swimming, do not swim alone. This is because swimming constantly for an hour can lead to hypos both during and after the session. You should only swim alone once you are confident in your diabetes management whilst taking part in the sport.
Swimming, like any sport, will require regular blood testing and the supply of hypo treatments. Training and race days may require an adjustment of your insulin dosage but make sure you consult your doctor before making any changes.
When training, you may be advised by your doctor or nurse to take on board some glucose every 30 minutes; however, during a race that is a set time or distance, this may not be possible. Your doctor or nurse may also advise that you decrease your insulin in the build-up to the race, but this must be discussed with them before you make any changes to your diabetes regimen.
Swimming with type 2 diabetes
If you have been prescribed insulin or insulin stimulating medication then you may need to add to your carbohydrate intake or reduce the dosage of these medications. However, you need to speak to your healthcare professional before making any changes to the dosage of your medication.
If you have a blood sugar testing machine, make sure you are testing your blood glucose levels frequently during and after you exercise to keep a track of whether your blood sugars are dropping.
One last tip
Always have a medical identification bracelet on if you are at risk of suffering from a hypo. Also, if you are swimming in the ocean there is a higher chance that you will cut your feet, so the general advice is to wear protective footwear for sea swims.
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