Why Water Aerobics Is Good Exercise

Diabetes and Exercise Options

I know I've written before about water aerobics as a terrific exercise for people with diabetes (either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes), but it really is true!  That's why I'm writing about it again, this time with more details on why water aerobics is so beneficial for those of us with diabetes.

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. 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, let's say you have the doctor's nod and you're on your way. Let's see what the value of water aerobics is for people with diabetes.

Water Aerobics for Diabetes:  The Benefits

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 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 (ie, 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.

What a Water Aerobics Class Is Like

Basically, as in 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. Make sure you stretch after exercising also. Ask your instructor for the proper exercises if you are not sure what to do.

Who Should Do Water Aerobics

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.  That shows that water aerobics is good for weight loss, which is sometimes a consideration when you have type 2 diabetes.  (Losing weight can make it a lot easier to manage your blood glucose levels and diabetes in general.)

Water aerobics is also used for those who have had strokes, have arthritis, or for the multitude of us who have back problems.

Many certified diabetes educators suggest it for those with diabetic peripheral neuropathy (which you can learn more about in an article series on diabetic neuropathy on our sister site, EndocrineWeb). 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.

Should You Do Water Aerobics?

If you're still not convinced that you should check out water aerobics, here's a lsit of the benefits of this form of exercise.

  • 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.

Water Aerobics Considerations

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 diabetes 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.

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. (Foot care is so important for people with diabetes; I'm sure you know that.)

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, 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 probably 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.

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.

Plus, water aerobics, worked in with watcing what you eat and taking your insulin or other medications, can help you better manage your diabetes. 

Updated on: April 14, 2011