Swimming for the Elderly
Swimming for the Elderly
Almost all older adults, regardless of age or condition, can improve their health and independence through exercise and physical activity.
Participating in regular physical exercise increases a person’s chance of living a longer and healthier life.
Swimming is a fabulous form of exercise for people of all ages, and its host of benefits make it an ideal physical activity for older adults in particular.
Swimming offers a cardiovascular and respiratory workout that helps to maintain and improve balance and coordination, strengthen the immune system and grow muscle mass, and enhance joint flexibility and bone density.
Back pain sufferers or those looking for a low-impact workout also find relief in the water. Swimming can serve as an effective treatment for chronic conditions, and can assist in the prevention or delay of some diseases and disabilities such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and depression.
However, the recent tragic fatalities of 2 older Australians from within our own community while engaged in a swimming exercise program is a timely reminder to the elderly that their enthusiasm for getting and/or staying fit should be based on a well-prepared program that is closely monitored by their GP.
An older person should consult their Doctor and undergo a physical examination prior to commencing any new exercise program. This consultation will allow for discussion of the type of exercise that will be undertaken, any of pre-existing health concerns, illnesses or surgery and medications being taken (exercise can trigger adverse reactions in certain drugs).
Your Doctor can provide guidance as to the type of exercise that best suits your individual circumstances, and can advise as to the forms of exercise you should avoid – especially where there is a pre-existing medical condition. Once given the all clear from your GP, it is best to start slowly and at a level and intensity that can be managed.
In the case of swimming, build up laps gradually over time (perhaps start with 15-20 minutes). If you try to attempt too much quickly, there is a greater risk of injury.
Remember, health benefits can still be achieved without exercising at a vigorous level. A training diary can be used to help in the planning of a swim fitness program, and to monitor progress.
A diary might include goals, details of the duration and intensity of the swim session, indications of improvement in distance or time, and any health issues that might be experienced.
For the elderly who have commenced or are considering commencing a swimming-based exercise program, here are a number of helpful tips that may help ensure your exercise regime becomes a regular part of your lifestyle:
– As people age, their joints become stiffer and inflexible. Ensure you warm up and cool down your muscles by stretching for 5-10 minutes before commencing swimming – this helps prevent injury and soreness
– Breath holding can cause changes in blood pressure….so relax and breathe easy!
– Keep up the fluid intake…being in the water (especially if the pool is heated) means you can never be sure about how much you are sweating!
– Exercise with friends not only to socialise, but also for motivation and for safety reasons too
– Check your pulse regularly to make sure you are not overdoing it – you should be able to carry on a conversation at the end of each lap and if you can’t you are probably over exerting yourself
– Don’t overdo it! Small changes such as going from swimming in a 25m pool to 50m or swimming after a bout of illness or a holiday can change the dynamics of the exercise program. Pay attention to warning signs such as dizziness, chest pain, heart racing or shortness of breath.
– Stop swimming if you feel your heart skipping, racing or fluttering and/or you experience a shortness of breath, pain or dizziness, and postpone any further exercise until you have seen your Doctor.
– If you get tired during the course of a workout, remember you are only a short distance away from the side of the pool.
Emergency assistance from a lifeguard is usually available, and this service gives added confidence and comfort to those older swimmers or those with a pre-existing medical condition.
A person’s fitness and capacity to maintain fitness generally decreases with age, and lowered levels of health and fitness are especially prevalent amongst the elderly who have allowed themselves to become physically inactive.
Swimming is a safe, easy and comfortable form of physical exercise, and its numerous health benefits, which help to allow a person to continue the activities they enjoy and to stay independent with age – make it especially suitable for older adults.