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The Benefits of Swimming

(**Please consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.)

My friend Carol and I took swimming lessons when we were almost 30. When our kids took lessons, we decided to take lessons in the adult class. At that time, I lived in a community with several community pools, and I swam fairly often. I later moved from that neighborhood and, although my gym had pools, I never swam at the gym. I recently took a refresher course to make sure I could resume safely swimming. I now swim at least once week. I’m the slowest swimmer in the pool but I enjoy it. When I jump in, my body seems to instantly relax in the water.

Prior to my taking my initial lessons I had always been afraid to swim. In my hometown the pools were segregated when I was young. When I went to the pool, I remember that the pools were small, not well-maintained and were always very crowded. At least in the shallow end of the pool. For most of my childhood, I don’t think I knew anyone of color who could swim. We didn’t have access to lessons, so we stayed safe by staying out of the water.

Sadly, back then we sometimes would receive news that someone had died after getting in the nearby lake. There was a heaviness that consumed us all as we supported the family. We had legitimate reasons for not being able to swim: no access to pools or lessons, the cost, and a widespread community fear of swimming.

“Although most early slaves in America did learn to swim, slave owners soon began to gradually recognize swimming as a means of escape for slaves, as it was extremely hard to track a slave who escaped by water, and the runaway left no trail. In addition, slave owners began to view their slaves’ swimming as dangerous because it could result in loss of property due to drowning. Therefore, slave owners began to force slaves to stop swimming through a variety of tactics. For example, some slave owners forced disobedient slaves underwater until they nearly drowned publicly. Slave owners also told stories of sea creatures and monsters to scare slaves. All of these factors over the years cumulated into a general fear of water amongst the black community in America. It also began the stereotype that blacks simply don’t swim, eventually changing black culture. After a few generations, fewer and fewer slaves learned to swim and more and more slaves became afraid of the water.”

HGTV’s House Hunter’s is one of my favorite shows. I like following how buyers decide on which property to purchase and I also like seeing all the different features in the properties. I recently watched an episode where a Black family was going to purchase a house with a pool. The mom was excited and had noted that having a pool was an important feature for their new home. What struck me was that while she could swim, her husband nor her child could swim. My heart sank. Memories of the drownings from my childhood rose up suddenly within me.

I felt like screaming “Don’t buy that house with the pool!” Pools are enticing. The water looks inviting and seems to beckon us to come on in. However, according to a 2017 study commissioned by the USA Swimming Foundation and done by researchers at the University of Memphis, 64% of Black children in the United States can't swim (compared to 40% for white children), and they are almost six times more likely to drown in a swimming pool than white children. I believe we can do better.

“Sadly, drowning is the number two cause of unintentional injury related death between children ages one through fourteen in America; however, African Americans between the ages of five and fourteen years old are 3.2 times more likely to drown than white children of the same age. ( “We need to address swim comfort and skills for both parents and their children,” said senior author Dr. Michelle Macy, an emergency medicine physician at Lurie Children’s and associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Expanding access to pools and affordable, culturally tailored water-safety programs are critically important strategies to help eliminate racial disparities in child drownings."

“Our results underscore that racial and ethnic gaps in swimming competence run in families, and that children are less likely to swim when their parents can’t swim,” Macy said.

According to Healthline ( there are several benefits to swimming. Some of the benefits include:

· Works your whole body. It increases your heart rate without stressing your body, tones muscle, builds strength and endurance.

· Works your insides too. Swimming makes your heart and lungs strong. Swimming is so good for you that researchers share it may even reduce your risk of death. Compared with inactive people, swimmers have a lower risk of death. Swimming may help lower blood pressure.

· It’s s appropriate for people with injuries, arthritis, and other conditions. While it’s important to have your doctor’s approval before beginning or resuming any exercise program. Swimming can be a safe exercise option for most people with: arthritis, injury, disability. Swimming may even help reduce some of your pain or improve your recovery from an injury. One study showed that people with osteoarthritis reported significant reductions in joint pain and stiffness, and experienced less physical limitation after engaging in activities like swimming and cycling.

· Good option for people with asthma. The humid environment of indoor pools makes swimming a great activity for people with asthma. Not only that, but breathing exercises associated with the sport, like holding your breath may help you expand your lung capacity and gain control over your breathing.

· Beneficial for people with MS, too. People with multiple sclerosis (MS) may also find swimming beneficial. Water makes the limbs buoyant, helping to support them during exercise. Water also provides a gentle resistance. In one study, a 20-week swimming program resulted in significant reduction of pain for people with MS. These people also showed improvements with symptoms like fatigue, depression, and disability.

· Torches calories. Swimming is an efficient way to burn calories. A 160-pound person burns approximately 423 calories an hour while swimming laps at a low or moderate pace. That same person may burn up to 715 calories an hour swimming at a more vigorous pace. A 200-pound person doing the same activities would burn between 528 and 892 calories an hour. A 240-pound person might burn between 632 and 1,068. To compare these numbers to other popular low-impact activities, that same 160-pound person would only burn around 314 calories walking at 3.5 miles per hour for 60 minutes. Yoga might burn just 183 calories per hour. And the elliptical trainer might burn just 365 calories in that hour.

· Improves your sleep. Swimming may have the power to help you sleep better at night. Swimming is accessible to a wide range of people who deal with physical issues that make other exercises, like running, less appealing. That can make swimming a good choice for older adults looking to improve their sleep.

· Boosts your mood. A small group of people with dementia were evaluated and saw an improvement in mood after participating in a 12-week aquatic program. Swimming and aquatic workouts aren’t just psychologically beneficial for people with dementia. Exercise has been shown to boost mood in other people, as well.

· Helps manage stress. People reported a decrease in stress after swimming. While more research needs to be done in this area, the researchers conclude that swimming is a potentially powerful way to relieve stress quickly.

· Safe during pregnancy. Pregnant women and their babies can also reap some wonderful rewards from swimming. Swimming is an activity that can be performed in all three trimesters. No adverse effects of swimming in chlorinated pools while pregnant were found. In fact, pregnant women who swam during their early to mid-pregnancy had a lower risk of preterm labor and congenital defects. Keep in mind that while swimming is generally considered safe during pregnancy, some women may have activity restrictions due to complications in pregnancy. Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise programs during pregnancy, and if you have complications, ask about activities that are safe.

· Great for kids, too. Kids need a minimum of 60 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. It doesn’t need to feel like a chore either. Swimming is a fun activity and doesn’t necessarily feel like formal working out. Your child can do either structured swimming lessons or be part of a swim team. Unstructured swim time is another solid option to get kids moving.

· Affordable. Swimming may also be an affordable exercise option compared to some others, like cycling. Many pools offer reasonable rates to join. Some public schools and other centers offer swim hours for free, or for a sliding scale according to your income. If you’re still concerned about the costs of joining a pool, check with your employer or your health insurance. Some offer reimbursements for joining a fitness program.

Swimming safety

The following swim safety tips can help reduce your risk from swimming:

· Swim in areas that are designated for swimming, like pools and roped off sections of lakes and other bodies of water. If possible, swim in areas that are supervised by lifeguards.

  • If you aren’t swimming with lifeguard supervision, bring a buddy.

  • Consider taking swimming lessons if you’re new to the sport. You can enroll in age-appropriate classes through the Red Cross and through other programs in your area.

  • Swimming outdoors? Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15 or higher to protect your skin. You may also want to avoid swimming between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is highest in the sky.

  • Don’t forget to drink water, even if you aren’t thirsty. You may feel cool from the water, but you can get dehydrated while swimming. Drink plenty of water and avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them.

  • Children should always be supervised when near water. Never let children swim alone to avoid the risk of drowning.

I’m still cautious when I swim. I always make sure a lifeguard is nearby and I plan ahead to stay safe in the water. I really enjoy it and it is easy on my joints which, trust me, matters more and more as you age. You may want to consider exploring swimming as a fun option to improve your health.

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