We have written about swimming and water aerobics before, but June is the time to begin to think about exercising during the warm or hot summer months. Do re-read the other articles we have shared with you about water sports, and then read this one. We have tried to take a different tack and hope that it will help you make up your mind to try on your bathing suit or better yet, to purchase a new one and dive into the water.
Once again, we caution that a physical is important before you begin an exercise program whether on land or in the water. Make sure you know your blood glucose level before you exercise and that you have carbohydrates at hand if you need them. We all know that 15 grams of carbs will treat low blood glucose levels so keep the glucose tablets or low fat peanut crackers handy. Never go into the water without a partner or without others in a class present.
No one wants to read about the lone diabetic who couldn’t get to the side of the pool. Hypoglycemia can make your ability to care for yourself difficult, to say the least, and we’ve all been there and know the truth about some of the silly or dangerous things we have done in that situation. OK, you have the doctor’s nod and you’re on your way. Let’s see what the value of this sport is.
My favorite selling point for water sports is its healing ability. Don’t believe me? Look at the classes at hospital health clubs and the number of physical therapists who suggest it for patients who have aching bodies or physical limitations. Aquatic exercise will not only make your heart stronger, but when you begin the aerobic part of your program, you will find that you tone your body and just plain strengthen your muscles. After my recent back surgery I used water aerobics to help with my balance, which was temporarily off. Although I had been told this might happen, it was a surprise and I started a program to help get my balance back to pre-surgery levels. It worked.
The truth is though, as we age, our balance may become shaky. Because you are in a buoyant environment, i.e., the water, the likelihood of injury is minimal. When submerged in chest-level water you are supporting only 85% to 90% of your body weight. You, therefore, put less stress on joints, bone and muscle so injuries are at a minimal level. Also, since aerobics are done in chest-deep water, you don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer to begin or complete a program.
In our last article about water aerobics, I described what my classes were like at a spa I attended. Basically, like gym-based aerobics, your instructor will turn on some music and will teach you a routine of rhythmic movements and dance steps. Depending on your exercise history, you can start in a beginning class, but if you exercise regularly, ask about a class that will make you sweat and give you a work out. In more advanced classes, you can expect more calisthenics.
You can look forward to using equipment during classes. We used kick boards, woggles and hand buoys. Your class will last about 40 or 50 minutes depending on where you go. Because you have an instructor, you should have a warm-up and cool-down period. Ask your instructor to do some stretches before you get into the water, if you find none are offered. You know that these are necessary if you’ve been reading these exercise articles. Make sure you stretch after exercising also. Ask your instructor for the proper exercises if you are not sure what to do, or re-read our articles on stretching.
When I was asked to take over a number of therapeutic groups for obese women, we suggested water aerobics to help with weight loss as we dealt with psychiatric issues in group. It is also used for those who have had strokes, have arthritis or for the multitude of humans who have back problems. Many diabetic educators suggest it for those with peripheral neuropathy.
Ask your professional team what they think. The good thing is that if you have none of these problems, water aerobics is still the “perfect” sport for you too. Every time we write an article about a specific sport we get asked about the numbers of calories it burns. You are all such sophisticated exercisers. Well, the answer for water aerobics is 450-700 calories during a one hour aerobic activity, depending on how much and how vigorously you move.
Now for the Hard Sell: Why should you try water aerobics?
- The buoyancy supports your body so that you can protect your joints, muscles and bones. Remember at chest-level you will have 85% to 90% of your body supported.
- Water provides more resistance than air so as you move through the water you are getting an excellent work out. You will shape up faster doing the same workout in the water than on land.
- Exercising in the water helps improve flexibility and balance. Most people have a wider range of motion in the water.
- My favorite reason for water aerobics is that it’s in the water in the hot weather. Running in 100° weather is not healthy for a diabetic or probably for anyone, but getting into the pool is just what the doctor ordered in the summer.
What are the drawbacks to this type of exercise? Well, the biggest one is getting to a pool and then making sure that you have a qualified instructor. You will have to pay for a series of classes, but that should be minimal. I, for one, always interview new fitness instructors because that person stands between a hypoglycemic episode and me.
I always ask if they know anything about diabetes and especially type 1 since that’s what I have. You can tell if someone is willing to learn how to look out for you as you describe your needs. If you see that glazed-over look or the “I can’t or won’t do that” look, just keep looking. There are millions of us out there and most everyone has a relative with diabetes. It is rare, indeed, that instructors are unwilling to keep an eye out for you. My last drawback is the sun. We are all aware that being out in the sun without protection is dangerous, so make sure you put on a sun screen and, if you can, wear a hat.
What do you need to buy before you begin this sport? Well, the most obvious is a swim suit. Get one that allows you to move freely, and remember that when trying on a swim suit you will need one that is one or two sizes bigger than your regular size. You may also be asked to purchase aqua shoes, which will protect your feet. As a person with diabetes, you will want to make sure that the soles of your feet are not scraped or cut and that you do not develop blisters. If you enroll in a more advanced class, you may do some laps. If that is so, treat yourself to a good pair of goggles to protect your eyes from the pool chemicals. A swim cap will protect your hair from chemicals also, but if you have found one that actually keeps your hair dry, please let us know. I’ve tried many different types and brands and none have been great. Also, invest in shampoo that will wash the chemicals from your hair. If you color your hair, ask your beautician for suggestions. Green hair is not the goal here, but in many classes you never get your hair really wet.
I love the equipment that you get to use during water aerobics. Many of you who have pools in your back yard will be familiar with some or all of these, but I’ll go over them for the rest of you who are thinking about trying this great sport. Do remember, you don’t have to buy these as the pool will have a supply. My favorite equipment is a flotation belt, because it makes you stand straight in deep water. You can move your lower body uninterrupted while floating so that you work one set of muscles at a time. Some of my students who were originally afraid of the water say that the belt gives them confidence to continue. Aqua blocks are really barbells. They increase the resistance of the water as you press them through the water and, voila, more muscle, less work. Gyrojoggers are circles that you can wear on your feet or hands to get more resistance. Have you noticed that resistance is the name of the game in water aerobics?
Kickboards are just as you remember them from your first swimming lessons as a child. My daughter who is a triathelete uses one of these to strengthen her legs as she kicks through the water. This is another piece of equipment that many beginners like because it gives them confidence that they will not sink or get their heads under water.
In my last article, I shared that at the spa we did some step work in the pool. There are non-skid steps for the pool. As I recall, I shared that using the steps was eye opening because I actually broke into a sweat in the water. Who would have thought?
Water woggles are ubiquitous in private pools. Children love these foam cylinders. In a water aerobic class they are used for flotation and for that resistance thing.
Now you are ready to start a program. You know what is expected of you. You are to have fun, shape up, make friends, correct your posture, become more flexible, develop better balance, and help your heart to pump more efficiently, strengthen your muscles, move through space with more ease and protect your bones and joints at the same time. You will use resistance to make your waist smaller and the rest of you look years younger while you stay cool in the pool.