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Published: May 17, 2023

Kendal at Oberlin Indoor swimming pool

For those of you who enjoy swimming in an outdoor pool, Memorial Day weekend is yet another cause for celebration. For those of you who aren’t avid, seasonal or even occasional swimmers you might want to rethink your decision to avoid water because as WebMD explains, “Swimming is just about as good as it gets for a total workout.”

Older adults have even more reason to take up swimming. “Swimming may well be the perfect lifelong sport. It’s a low-impact, joint-friendly, sustainable way to stay in great shape at any age. And it can improve longevity and quality of life,” explains SilverSneakers health writer Jim Thornton.

Let’s dive into health benefits

Swimming is the fourth most popular sports activity in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No surprise, given all the health benefits, both physical and mental. Jill Tvaroha, wellness coordinator at Kendal, home to many swimmers and two indoor pools, recently gave a fitness talk outlining the 5 health benefits of swimming:

  1. Provides low-impact cardiovascular exercise;
  2. Provides a full body workout;
  3. Boosts mood and reduces stress;
  4. Builds endurance
  5. Contributes to better sleep

“According to the National Sleep Foundation, those who exercise regularly, even at a light pace, are more likely to have a good night’s sleep than those who don’t. And with nearly 50% of older adults experiencing some level of insomnia, this is great news. While almost all aerobic exercise is linked to better sleep, swimming is especially therapeutic because it encourages free-floating movements and meditation-like breathing,” Jill explains.

Another benefit is relief from arthritis, another chronic illness common among older adults.

“Water-based exercise can help people with arthritis improve the use of their arthritic joints without worsening symptoms. People with rheumatoid arthritis have shown more health improvements after participating in hydrotherapy (exercising in warm water) than with other activities. Water-based exercise can also improve the use of affected joints and decrease pain from osteoarthritis,” according to the CDC.

Swimming can also help If you have diabetes. “It will help you burn calories, lose weight, and keep your blood sugars under control. If you have high cholesterol, you will also benefit from swimming. It will help you lower your 'bad' LDL cholesterol and raise your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol,” according to WebMD.

Time to suit up

Besides a swimsuit, you might want to invest in googles with sun protection and a swim cap, maybe a kickboard and fins. Of course, outdoor swimmers remember to cover your face and body with waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

SilverSneakers’ Jim Thornton came up with 10 tips for a better swimming workout. If you’re just getting back to swimming pay attention to “Tip 8: Up the Challenge Gradually.”

“The three basic components of swim training are:

  • Duration: How long you swim
  • Intensity: How hard you go at it
  • Frequency: How often you do it

A good rule of thumb for keeping your workouts challenging but safe is to choose one of those components each week and increase it by 10 percent,” he writes.

If you’re one of the one-third of adults in the United States who can’t swim the length of a pool, swim lessons are in order. Good news, lots of health clubs and YMCAs offer classes just for adults.

The U.S. Masters Swimming offers an adult learn-to-swim program with instructors specially trained to address lifelong fear of water and other issues common among adults. Click here to find an instructor in your area.

Jill says, "Whether you participate in one of our classes or swim laps, water jog, do resistance work, or play games with a friend, the water has a lot to offer. Some examples would be: cardiac health, bone density improvement, improved flexibility and range of motion, increased strength, and most of all, lots of fun!”

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Author Molly Kavanaugh 2020In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.