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Exercise: Water Sports

While you decide which water sports you might like to try, go to your doctor and ask if you can be medically cleared for that sport. For example, scuba diving and surfing can subject you to dangerous currents and waves may be out for some of you because of the rigors of the sport. You may be one of those people who want to go to a school to make sure you can cope with any emergency that arises.

If you have read Better Homes and Garden for ever and ever, you saw our family taking sailing lessons years ago in a series of articles on reasonable vacations. We enrolled ( not knowing of the photo shoot and article) , because we wanted our children to be safe, to know how a sail boat worked, and how to take over the helm. Licenses in hand, we have been able to charter boats at many exciting ports. Although I may not be able to scuba dive deep in the ocean, because of physical limitations, I can snorkel on top, becoming swimming partners with lustrous fish. So, get your swim suit out and read on. By the way, if there is a sport that you’ re interested in, just let us know. We’ll try to cover it.


Let’s begin with a review of the basic skill you’ll need for all water sports-swimming. I find it difficult to believe that sailing, crewing, wind surfing, or even para-sailing can be comfortable if you fear drowning. Many people have a love-hate relationship with swimming. Once in the water, the feeling of lightness and warmth are lovely as is slicing through the water. It’s the putting on the swim suit and walking to the pool or into the lake or ocean that’s difficult. It may also be the water up your nose or in your mouth that gives you problems, or ear infections or even the turning of your hair a funny color as it chemically reacts with that natural color that come from the small brown bottle at the beauty shop.

I can still remember the special shampoos that we bought every summer to remove chlorine and give us back our natural hair. Having laughed while remembering these times. it is still to important to know how to swim and it is an excellent exercise as well. As we have written before, swimming is easy on your joints, tendons, and ligaments. That alone makes it a perfect sport for anyone with bone or joint injuries. It is a great aerobic exercise because it works the large muscle groups of the back and legs, as well as using the arms and upper body.

Ideally we should learn to swim as children because those little ones learn motor skills quickly and they do not read the paper or hear stories about the perils of water sports. The truth is that fear of the water solidifies as we age, not so much when we are youngsters. If your children or grandchildren need to learn or if you want to learn, find a good teacher because swimming is technical. Learning good stroke mechanics is very important.

A good swimmer only gets to put between five and nine percent of their expended energy into forward horizontal movement. The rest of the energy goes into keeping your body temperature at 98.6 degrees, staying afloat, and overcoming the drag dynamics of water. Swimming relies on physics and therefore we are rewarded for good technique and fluidity. Lessons will enable you to feel the beauty of cutting through the water without the splashing that accompanies the less able and to tell the truth, brings this sport to the level of art ( remember Esther Williams?).

Aside from just swimming laps in different strokes, you can also play team sports or workout in the water. I have watched water polo at summer camp and wondered at the skill of the team members. For this sport you need to swim well but if you are in excellent physical and medical shape and love the idea of a team sport that takes energy and skill, take a lesson or ten and try this one. Water aerobics is also a social sport as you are a member of a class. A well-designed water workout can give three workouts in one: cardio and muscle conditioning, plus flexibility. Since you weigh less (one-tenth of what you weigh on land) every full range of motion movement stretches muscles with ease.

Water has 12 times the density of air. To get in shape, you have to pull, push, swirl and swoosh it-and keep your arms under water. The pay off if you use your whole body is excellent because with any one movement, you can also work the opposite muscles at the same time. In the gym, it would take at least two exercises and twice the time for the same pay off. What should you look for in a class? For cardio and torso strengthening walk forward and backward at a fast pace in the shallow end. You can be shown a variety of circles, twists, kicks, and spirally movement with the arms, legs and torso-standing in place or moving around. Add equipment like a pair of webbed gloves, paddles, floating dumbbells and ankle cuffs, a kick board or “pool noodle” These will add extra resistance to make the heart and muscles stronger. Try deep water running or dance moves, staying afloat with your Pool Noodle, a flotation belt, buoyant cuffs or dumbbells. Once you get strong enough, give up these buoyant gear and do it on your own.

Swimming Safety

When I was 16 and spent my summers greased perfectly with baby oil, it was expected that we pass life saving courses. We all enrolled because the instructors at the pool were the ” cool” and forbidden Adonisis that we dreamed of. I share this because even though I have papers that say I can save another human being and working in hospitals, I have taken CPR, some of my water skills are old and I have a chronic disease. And so dear reader, as I list how to help others, remember your limitations. I for one would not go it lone. Remember, two deaths are 100% worse than one. So here are some rules to consider.

  1. Never swim out to save someone unless you have passed a life saving course and you are in shape. If you did take a course, you know that grandstanding is not the way to save someone. You can reach out for a victim from the side of a pool or give them a pole, towel, oar etc,. throw something like a life saver or push out an ice chest or spare tire to someone in trouble. You can row out to them and let them grab on to the back of the boat ( if they grab on the side you may turn over) , and lastly, if all else fails you can use your towing skills from life saving class.
  2. Swimming Safety rules are, like those above, use common sense. Never Swim alone, no matter how good of a swimmer you are. Swim where you see a lifeguard on duty. If you are in charge of children, never leave them or take your eyes off of them. You are not a good swimmer, stay in shallow water whether in a pool or the ocean. If you are in the ocean, never go for a long swim without having some one following you in a boat. If you get a cramp in your arm or leg while swimming stop and stretch it. Hold your breath and reach down and massage it. Don’t panic, you will float. If you feel a cramp coming on, change the way you are swimming. Never swim at night any place for safety reasons. This is especially true in the ocean where some fish feed at night. Never call for help around water unless you need it. Teach your children and grandchildren this. If you need help yell, wave your arms etc.

For more information contact the American Red Cross or your local YM or YWCA.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

In keeping with truth in reporting, I will start this part of the article by saying that scuba is not my favorite water sport. It is a joy for our children and some of our friends with whom we travel. We tried it well before I developed diabetes and there are those of us that are not comfortable with the equipment. Now, I am not able to scuba (see medical requirements) Having said that, snorkeling with my family among the fish that navigate the coral reefs allows me to swim on top of the water. When we pay for the hours on the water, we get a boat ride to the reefs plus the rental equipment we need, i.e. flippers, mask, and snorkel.

We swim with groups, follow the rules of the day which protect the reef, and are wowed by the species and scenery we see. The boat is always there so that if anyone gets tired, they can get back for a snack and/or rest. I never swim alone. My children and friends all know the first signs of falling blood glucose levels, even when I don’t, and keep me safe so the exercise and swimming are family fun and memories in the making.

Scuba diving is not for everyone, but if you think swimming in the bright blue underwater looking a red coral growing out of a wrecked ship with fish of varying colors around you in an environment where the loudest sound is that of your breathing, then you may want to try this water sport. If you are interested go to a school where you can get a certification as you’ll be more confident. Taking a short course at the resort where you are staying is certainly cheaper but you will spend your time in the pool or in very shallow water.

Now for the physical requirement for scuba diving.

You don’t have to be an expert swimmer to scuba dive. 1.6 American over age 45 carry scuba licenses. The biggest medical problem for those who want to learn to scuba dive is sinus problems and/or ear problems. Those with heart disease or circulatory diseases should not scuba dive. People with asthma are also candidates for staying ashore or in the boat and enjoying a day at sea.

You are OK for scuba diving if you are in good health, breathe without difficulty, can swim 200 meters, can float or tread water for 10 minutes, can react calmly to minor adversity and according to my scuba diving friends, like fish, either alive or cooked.

We have shared some water sports that get you wet. Next post we will look at sports that keep you on top of the water. Once again, please let us know if you have specific sports you are interested in. To find places to snorkel or dive, and where you can get swimming lessons and aerobic water classes put in key words, “scuba” or “swimming”, or “exercise”. You have pages to examine. Also, ask friends where they learned these skills. And, remember, to talk to your physician about starting up any new sport.

Know how to control your blood glucose levels, make sure you carry extra carbs, and tell your instructor that you have diabetes and any other complications. If they do not know how to help you if you develop a short term complication, look further. There are 16 million of us out there and if someone says they have never worked with one of us, there is a reason for this statement. Safety first, enjoyment and health a close second!