Go swimming for your health

Go soak your head! No really, it’ll probably do you some good. It’s a great way to get moving, and stay fit.

Whether you’re in rehab or training for a triathlon, swimming can really pay off. Even people with injuries or chronic conditions can enjoy swimming.

In fact, Victoria-based physiotherapist Barbara Desjardins says it’s a great way to get back into physical activity for someone who has been sidelined for a while.

“If they’re coming off an injury, where they’ve been non-weight bearing, water is perfect,” she says. Your joints don’t take the pounding they might if you were running or biking.

Helps with balance
There is also some evidence that swimming can be good in ways that aren’t as obvious.

“Water is good for neurological problems, where people have balance issues, but they should be supervised,” she adds. Anyone with a chronic condition should check with a doctor before plunging in.

No matter where you are starting from though, you can work as much, or as little as you want. Just being in the water can help you work on your back and abdominal muscles, because those are the muscles you use to balance yourse. So even going for a leisurely paddle is a good start.

Make fitness plan
But don’t just leave it at that. Desjardins recommends some sort of fitness plan, so you can set goals.

“I believe in a measurable response. The more structured you are, the better chance you have of understanding and identifying any pain or discomfort you may experience,” she says.

Desjardins says a new or returning swimmer should feel free to ask as many questions as they want of a physiotherapist, or of the pool staff. They can tell you how to enjoy your swim, and prevent injuries.

Do gentle stretching
The most common injury for swimmers is known as “swimmer’s shoulder”. It is caused by the constant rotating motion of the shoulder in doing the most common stroke, the front crawl. So prepare your shoulders with gentle stretching, before and after exercising.

Try out some other strokes as well.

Beverley Stephenson, a Specialist for Membership Programs with the YMCA in the Greater Toronto Area, says sidestroke, breast stroke and elementary back stroke are considered resting strokes. These require less effort than the front crawl or butterfly.

Stephenson says many of her students who hadn’t been in the water for years did well with
the backstroke. It also helps people who are nervous about putting their faces in the water.

Gear is simple
But you can’t put even your baby toe in the water without first getting the gear. A good quality bathing suit is a necessity, but goggles and a swim cap are optional. Stephenson has worked for the YMCA for 17 years, and knows a thing or two about swim equipment. She says the beauty of it is in its simplicity.

“You don’t have to worry about ‘Do I have cross-trainer, flat trainers, do I have the right shoe?'” Stephenson points out.

“The best bathing suit is the one you can get into and one that allows you full range of motion in your arms,” she says.

This is workout wear. And it will fade and stretch, so keep it simple. Stephenson says women in her aquafit and arthritis classes sometimes buy maternity suits for their roominess and give. The main thing is comfort.

Goggles, deck shoes
Goggles aren’t essential, but can protect your eyes from chlorine if you like to keep them open.
Make sure you buy a pair that fit comfortably around your eyes. If possible, try them on before leaving the store.

Stephenson says some people like to wear aqua shoes on deck, or even in the pool.

“They give you grip on the deck and in the pool. And they provide a protective layer between the soles of your feet, and anything that might be taking up residence on the pool deck,” she says.

Although most pools work hard to avoid it, Plantar’s warts can be spread wherever bare, wet feet are common.

Beware swimmer’s ear
Also stay alert to the development of swimmer’s ear. Water that remains trapped in the ear canal can encourage bacteria and fungi to grow and infect the outer ear.

Be sure to get your ears dry after a swim, either with ear drops, or a hair dryer (not too close). If you feel as if your ear is blocked and itchy, or any liquid is running from it, see your doctor.

Try classes
The next thing is deciding what you want out of your water experience. If you’re looking for a fitness program, then try a stroke improvement class. This will remind you what you’re doing, and make sure you’re doing it properly.

You can tailor your workout to meet your skills and needs.

If you’re looking for social interaction, a group class like aquafit may be a better bet.

“My aquafits are very social,” says Stephenson, “Half of them stay and have coffee afterward, and the arthritis group sometimes go out to brunch, then all show up at class complaining about how full they are.”

Never turned away
Finding the club that is right for you can be as easy as heading to the nearest recreation centre, fitness club, YMCA or outdoor pool.

Many recreation centres and even Boys and Girls Clubs have classes for adults, or adults-only swim times. Going during an open swim time can be chaotic. It’s difficult to do laps while dodging the kids.

But swimming is also a way to spend time with your children or grandchildren. All age and skill levels can participate at the same time, with everyone swimming to suit their own needs.

Stephenson says a pool workout can be tailored to any fitness level.

“From your leisure lane swimmer to your elite triathlon competitor. The pool doesn’t turn anyone away.”