Summer is coming and you’re sure to start planning a trip, so you might want to know if it’s safe to swim with type 1 diabetes.
This is the short answer: yes. When safety measures are taken and the approval of the medical team is obtained, swimming is fun and a very complete exercise that can help control type 1 diabetes.
Benefits of swimming for people with type 1 diabetes
Regular physical activity has many health benefits for all people, including those with type 1 diabetes 1 . It can help you control your blood glucose levels, in addition to numerous other benefits for heart health, bone health, and emotional well-being 2 .
Your blood glucose level changes based on several things, such as:
The type of exercise (anaerobic or aerobic)
When was the last meal eaten?
The composition of the last meal
Current glucose levels
The time of the last insulin administration
Recreational swimming with Lifeguard Class is a form of aerobic exercise, while sprint swimming is a form of anaerobic exercise. Both are forms of exercise that can have great health benefits for people with type 1 diabetes.
A recent study has explored the relationship between swimming and blood glucose levels in adolescent males with type 1 diabetes. Age-matched participants were divided into two groups. Participants in both groups underwent hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) testing before and after the 10-week swimming program. Results showed significant improvements in HbA1c levels in participants who participated in the 10-week swimming program, compared to participants who did not swim. The study suggests that swimming as part of a regular exercise routine can help lower blood glucose levels. 3
Safety tips for swimming
Are you ready to make the most of summer and start swimming? Go ahead! Here are some tips to stay safe and avoid emergencies, based on expert consensus 1 .
Check your blood glucose levels before exercising. Exercise generally lowers blood glucose levels to meet energy needs. Therefore, it is important that you check your glucose levels before swimming or doing other types of exercise.
Check that you have insulin. Make sure you have a sufficient supply and be prepared to adjust your schedule in response to your glucose levels.
Prepare a snack. If you leave home to go swimming, take a prepared snack with you in case your glucose levels drop.
Take a rest. If you’re going to be swimming for a long period of time, take a break to eat something if your glucose levels drop below a healthy threshold.
Keep hydrated. When we dive into the water, we do not notice that we are sweating or that we are thirsty. Drink plenty of water regularly, especially if you swim in hot weather or outdoors.
Tell other people what to do in an emergency. It’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself in an emergency situation, but whether you have type 1 diabetes or not, it’s important to be prepared. If you need help while swimming, it’s important to let your friends and family know that you have type 1 diabetes and who to call. If no one is with you, you can wear an identification bracelet or pendant.
If you take the proper precautions and talk to your medical team, you can play any water sport regardless of whether you have type 1 diabetes 4 .
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, whether you have type 1 diabetes or not. If you have type 1 diabetes, you can generally get the same kind of exercise and physical activity as people who don’t have type 1 diabetes.
When you swim, whether for fun or exercise, your glucose metabolism changes to match your energy needs. For this reason, you may need to check your glucose levels more frequently than normal and discuss insulin adjustment and meal timing with your medical team.
Enjoy the summer as much as you can and don’t hesitate to include swimming in your exercise plan during the warmer months.