The Benefits of Swimming

Carolyn Tinglin_Registered Nurse Carolyn Tinglin is a Registered Nurse with a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Science. Her passion is healthy aging. Throughout her career, she has published numerous articles on health, wellness, aging and recently presented at the International Council on Active Aging conference. Carolyn also works as an assistant professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.

As summer comes to an end, so do the opportunities to exercise outside. Exercises and sports such as tennis, lawn bowling, bocchi ball, biking, fishing and running may not be as appealing during cool or cold weather. Although there are fun and interesting outdoor sports and recreation activities to do in cool weather, nothing beats a dip in the pool to make you feel like it’s summer all over again! Besides, swimming is an excellent form of exercise with multiple benefits.

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How does swimming benefit mature adults?

According to a 2016 study (Alkatan et al.) swimming is an excellent exercise for older adults who have health challenges like osteoarthritis and heart disease. Regular swimming is less damaging to the joints compared to other exercises (for example, jogging, racquet sports) and research (Bherer, Erickson & Ambrose, 2013) indicates that regular swimming improves memory, reasoning and problem solving (“executive functioning”).

What if I’m not a strong swimmer or don’t enjoy doing laps in the pool?

There are water exercises you can do in the shallow end of the pool where you can be just knee deep or waist deep in the water. Here are a few suggestions:

Exercise #1: Swim Kicks (shallow end) Hang on to the side of the wall in a front swim position and kick your legs behind you. Try 20 vigorous kicks followed by 20 easy kicks, followed by a 20 second rest. Repeat this pattern for a total of 3 mins. You can adjust the number of kicks to match your fitness level (if you’re finding 20 is a bit much you can start with 10 and increase repetitions over a the same period of time).

Exercise #2: Walking in Water (shallow end) Walk from one end of the pool (shallow area only) to the other, periodically altering your pace and stride for 20-30 minutes. The water acts as a form of resistance and provides a full body workout.

Exercise #3: Aqua Tai-Chi  If you’ve ever tried Tai Chi, then you’ll love the aqua version. Perform simple and basic Tai-Chi moves in the water, gently pushing and pulling the water in various directions, this workout also uses water resistance to provide a full body workout.

Strong Swimmers can enjoy shallow and deep end exercises as well as traditional lap swimming .

Everyone can participate in Aquafit/aqua aerobic fitness classes and group workouts offered by your local fitness centre.

What’s the best way to prepare for my fitness session in the pool?

Starving yourself before swimming is not a good idea. It’s unclear where the “swim on an empty stomach” myth started but it is indeed a myth. Its ok to have a snack prior to your swim provided you allow 30 minutes to an hour for your food to digest. Eating a large or main meal is ok too, as long as you allow one to three hours for your meal to digest.

Fueling your body for any type of exercise is important and helps to prevent muscle cramps and feeling fatigued. What you eat is important as well healthy foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, oatmeal, low starch fruits and veggies, fish, chicken, peas and nuts provide a good energy source and don’t cause spikes in insulin levels. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.

To learn more about the glycemic index visit the Canadian Diabetes Association page.

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