Aging Swim Lessons and Benefits of Swimming in Later Life

| March 7, 2018 | 0 Comments | Email This Post Email This Post
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Benefits of Swimming in Later Life

I have coached swimmers of many ages, from 4 months to 91 years old. It’s no secret that swimming is good for your brain, body, and soul. Most of the common-sense benefits of swimming can be applied broadly to all age groups, but the research is scarce when it comes to measuring specific outcomes for the elderly.

Benefits of Aging Swim Lessons

One dedicated doctor decided to change that. Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka is the director of the College of Education’s Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. He has studied swimming and its benefits for over 15 years, with the main goal of his study to provide evidence-based research highlighting the positive effects of swimming on patients with osteoarthritis.

“We’re finally getting data showing that swimming exercise reduces pain as well as improves functions in arthritis patients.”

Swimming in Later Life

The study, covering 45 patients over three months, was conclusive in determining that swimming accomplished significant reductions in joint pain, stiffness, and physical limitations accompanied by increases in quality of life. Additionally, Dr. Tanaka’s work shows that beyond easing the pain of arthritis, swimming is as effective as both cycling and moderate walking in lowering blood pressure and decreasing lower joint pain in obese or sedentary patients.

And there is more good news. Here are a just a few of the specific benefits of swimming for an older population:

(1) One of the established benefits of swimming is improved cardiac function, but there is also scientific evidence that swimming and other aerobic activities specifically help lessen the systemic inflammation that leads to heart disease.

(2) Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 7 million American adults over the age of 65 experience depression each year and their 13% of the population account for 16-20% of suicides. Swimming can help reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of depression to combat this silent epidemic in an aging population. Aerobic exercise relieves depression and decreases stress thanks to the release of endorphins and other mood-lifting chemicals in the brain. But alongside the brain boost, swimming incorporates the same alternating stretches and regular breathing patterns of many yoga and other relaxation practices, creating a calming, meditative experience.

Swimming in Later Life

(3) And, finally, swimming can even help you live longer. Researchers at the University of South Carolina studied over 40,000 men ranging in age from 20 to 90 for a span of 30 years. Even when considering various health and age-related factors, they found that regular swimmers were half as likely to die during the study (50%). Swimmers were living longer than runners, walkers, and non-exercisers.

Working with senior adults is very rewarding because progress and gains are made very quickly. I incorporate strength-building exercises into the sessions along with swimming lessons. For one gentleman, we added weight-bearing squats to his workout, doing them on the steps inside the pool.  

Your age or fear of the water is not a barrier to learning to swim. I am currently coaching a 91-year-old gentleman who had his first lesson on his birthday, after 60 years out of the water! One with the Water has helped a number of adult swimmers overcome lifelong anxiety by empowering them to overcome their fears. It’s never too late to start swimming.

Coach Kenneth RippetoeCoach Kenneth Rippetoe

Founder of One with the Water

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