Swimming for the Seasons

Like clockwork, rain or shine, every other morning George Bowden slips on a wet suit and swims the length of a 25-meter pool, 40 times. He swims laps no matter the weather, no matter the season. He’s 90 years old and he swims to keep his diabetes at bay.

George learned he had diabetes when he was 65, during an annual physical exam to renew his pilot’s license. “I was a little shocked to hear I had diabetes,” he admits, “but not completely, because my father and grandmother had it. The diagnosis meant the end of my flying, so I found another activity.”

The Vacaville resident is happy to report that even after 25 years he experiences no side effects from this disease, and his A1C number is 7.5. He gives regular exercise all the credit.

George has always been active. He was on his college swim team, back when he attended Purdue. He had to stay fit to fly as a pilot for the U.S. Navy during World War II and in later years, when he flew as a hobby. As a civil engineer, he worked as a consultant, professor and expert witness. His work meant he and his wife, Barbara, could take summers off, and the avid hikers would spend weeks at a time on backpacking trips around Alaska or South America, or even tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro together. He was a skier until age 75—the same year he officially retired—and he put away the skis in search of a slightly less risky sport.

“Back when I was first diagnosed, I went to a class at the hospital where they explained you need to watch your diet and to start exercising. I already knew the physical benefits of exercise, but it’s really dramatic to see what happens to your blood sugar when you do exercise. It just drops.”

George enjoys his every-other-day swim routine, even if it’s raining. “I use the time to do my heavy thinking,” he says. In order to not lose track of his laps, he has attached a leather string with 10 beads onto his swim goggles, and pulls down a bead every two lengths. When the 10 beads are pulled down, he starts pushing them up, and when they’re all returned, he’s knows he has swum his 40 laps.

“For me, swimming has been a lifelong sport. Plus, it’s good for us older guys and isn’t hard on the knees.”

On the days he’s not swimming, George tries to do more walking, thanks to a tip he received from Collette DaCruz, his diabetes educator at NorthBay Diabetes & Endocrinology. “Collette said that you get the most benefit from walking just 15 minutes after every meal. So, I walk around my building. And, it helps that my apartment is pretty far away from the dining room,” he chuckles.

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