Swimming is one of the most enduringly popular activities around, with many of the millions who can’t swim admitting they’d really like to learn – and there are so many positive reasons for taking the plunge.
Not only is swimming a life skill, it’s one of the most accessible forms of exercise around, and particularly beneficial for people with health, mobility or joint problems and older age groups.
So to celebrate the first episode of The Wave, a new quiz show that sees contestants answer Rylan Clark's quiz questions before tackling the fierce Atlantic Ocean, here are five reasons to take up swimming…
It’s never too late to learn
“There are many reasons why people may not feel confident in the water, but it is never too late to learn to swim or brush up on your skills,” says Jon Glenn, head of Learn to Swim at the ASA.
“Many pool operators and leisure centres across the country run sessions aimed specifically at helping adults to become better swimmers and each year, over a thousand adults go through our ASA adult swimming programmes.”
It’s extremely low-impact
Living with conditions that cause joint pain, immobility and fatigue can make exercising very difficult. If higher impact activities are out of the question, the pool – where the water will help support your weight – could be just the answer (but remember to consult your doctor first).
“Swimming is one of the best exercises anyone over the age of 50 can do, bar none. There are a number of excellent benefits to swimming. Firstly, it is zero impact, which means your knees, hips and back are not under compressive weight-bearing force, so you can exercise without putting too much stress through your joints,” says physiotherapist and osteopath Tim Allardyce.
But it’s still a great workout!
“It’s hard work!” adds Allardyce. “That makes it a great cardiovascular exercise and brilliant for weight loss and fitness. It’s also great for strengthening the spine and core. Don’t listen to people who tell you that its bad for the neck – it’s not.
“Swimming with your head above water extends the neck, and, once you get used to the position, it can be quite comfortable, and it’s natural for the neck to extend backwards.
“Swimming helps you activate your core muscles which can prevent lower back pain, and if you’ve had joint surgery, swimming is the perfect rehabilitation too. It allows you to move the joint without strain, encouraging mobility to the joint and strength to the muscles around the joint.”
There’s a place for everyone
Don’t be put off by the fact that you think you’ll be a very slow swimmer, or you’ll need to stop for regular rests – you won’t be the only one.
Most large pools have designated time slots and lanes for different speeds, so everybody can enjoy the pool and go at their own pace.
There’s nothing to say you have to use the pool just for swimming up and down either – it can be a great place to do some gentle walking and stretch out the joints while you build up your fitness and confidence.
Unless you’re going for a dip in the sea or a lake, swimming isn’t completely free, but it can still be reasonable. Public leisure centres offer discounted rates for over-60s, as will many private gyms, though these tend to be much pricier.
If you have a long-term health condition, or you’re very overweight, ask your GP about any exercise schemes you may be eligible for to help improve your health – some clinical commissioning groups fund ‘exercise on prescription’ schemes. However, not everybody’s eligible and availability varies in different areas.