It has been awhile since I felt this exhausted after a workout. I try to swim at least three times a week, and I've been incrementally increasing the distance over the last couple of weeks to avoid hitting a "plateau." I don't consider myself a fitness fanatic, but I do believe exercise is important for my physical and mental health. However, as a type 1, I find myself constantly worried about the effects of exercise on my blood sugar and sometimes, especially on days like today, I wonder if I'm pushing myself too hard or if I should continue to challenge myself.
Swimming has been an interesting experiment in blood sugar control for me. When I started swimming three times a week last fall with a group at my gym, I expected the effect on my sugar would be similar to other cardio/aerobic exercises like walking or running--meaning I would probably have a pretty dramatic drop in my sugar. Usually if I'm going for a walk or a jog (the latter is quite rare because I loathe running), I'll have a snack beforehand and take little or no bolus insulin. If my sugar is in the 200s before a walk, I don't sweat it because I know it'll be somewhere in the low 100s within half an hour. So, imagine my surprise and frustration when, during my first couple of swimming sessions, I would eat my snack before a swim with no insulin and then have a high number afterward! Kind of a bummer.
During the first two or three weeks, I was able to tweak my routine to the point where my sugars are typically below 140 after swimming. Here's what I discovered about my body's response to swimming that helped make this possible:
- The time of day matters. The group that I swim with meets early (by my standards, anyway). We start the warm-up at 7 am. As most people probably know, people tend to be more insulin resistant in the morning. I've definitely noticed this trend in myself. I have to take around 50% more bolus insulin in the morning as compared to later in the day. On days when I can't make it to the group swim in the morning, I'll sometimes swim on my own and I have to remind myself that I may not need much insulin (or any at all) like I would during the morning.
Swimming is kind-of-sort-of-not-really cardio. Swimming is kind of on the border between anaerobic and aerobic exercise...really it's a blend of both, which is part of why I love it so much. But, as anyone who has ever had high blood sugars after lifting weights or doing Pilates will know, anaerobic exercise creates this hormonal response in your body that signals to your liver to start dumping more sugar into your system. So unfair, right? You go to the gym to get in shape and help control your diabetes, not make it further out of whack.
I have to eat a snack. For the first few weeks I avoided eating anything before my swims because, a) I didn't want to feel sick during the swim, and b) I had no idea what it would do to my sugars and didn't really want to find out. Finally I caved when a friend in the group suggested having a banana before practice. It's got a little carb to help me make it through. It's a natural, whole food, unlike the nasty snack bars I had been carrying around. So simple, I thought. Why didn't I think of that before? So, now I eat my banana while driving to the gym in the morning and take my 1 or 2 units of bolus (depending on how high my fasting sugar was), then get to it.
I have made it up to 3200 yards now (128 laps or 1.8 miles), which is the farthest I've ever swam at one time in my life...even when I swam competitively as a kid. I've lost ten pounds, and my mood and energy level is better than it has been in a very long time. Even though I have some stresses in my life at the moment, I don't feel overwhelmed by them and I wholeheartedly believe that my "health kick" is probably a big reason why. Even though making the time to workout is a hassle sometimes, and even though managing my sugars continues to be challenging, I am gradually feeling more and more confident in my athletic abilities.
Is it harder for diabetics to get active and stay active? Possibly. But don't let that discourage you. Not that I'm any sort of expert on the subject...all I have to go on is my personal experience. But I feel pretty strongly that the benefits will almost always outweigh the risks as long as you are careful and take your time. So, I guess that's what I need to apply to myself, isn't it? I need to keep pushing myself while remembering that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
*Edit: I hope this is a no-brainer...but please, people, talk to your doc before starting an exercise regimen!