Swimming, one of the best exercises for flexibility, strength and stamina. Ideal for older people? Yes! Actually, perfect.
So surely we are encouraging it? Well, no….not really, or rather, not realistically.
Lets look at why it is so good.
The key benefit is improved flexibility.
I am not actually talking about swimming! This is about exercise in water.
Being immersed in water eliminates the effect of gravity. Our bodies have had to struggle against the downward force of gravity all our lives. And after 80 years they are inclined to complain.
The chance to move without that pressure ……..Bliss! Old joints truly appreciate it… bending and stretching, enjoying moving, and often without pain. Love that sensation of floating, being supported and able to twist and turn freely. So good for the spine…
Secondly, we can strengthen muscles without straining joints.
Why? Think about it.
We usually make muscles stronger by working them hard against the effect of gravity. We even increase that by making them lift weights.
In a pool your limbs are supported, but you can still work muscles against resistance…the resistance of water and buoyancy! If you are standing in a pool with your arms floating and you try to pull them down to your sides you can feel it. You have to fight that floating, and the faster you do it, the harder it is. You are working your Lats and Pecs muscles as if you were pushing up from a chair. But no strain on the joints.
Kicking as in crawl, backstroke and breaststroke is excellent work for the Quadriceps knee muscles. You can work almost any of your muscles in a pool, safely.
And that goes for heart and lungs. Fast and hard movement in water will soon get you out of breath, and you don’t even have to swim!
Note that ‘in’. It is not about standing in water and waving your arms about. That is back to gravity. The work you are after is pushing against water, so you need to be neck deep!
So Where is the Problem?
The pools: swimming pools almost anywhere are just not Age Friendly.
Public baths, Hotel pools, Spas are usually designed for three groups of people: swimmers who wish to do lengths, children and beginners, or as fun pools with slides and fountains. They do not meet the needs of most people in their mid seventies and over.
We are back to unwitting ageism. If you haven’t experienced being old, you find it hard to imagine the difficulties there might be.
Most pools certainly do not look as if the designers tested them on our age group! And certainly haven’t thought through what the ageing population would benefit from.
Here are some of the issues:
How do I get in, safely?
My local pool gives me two options at 82: a vertical ladder, that I no longer have either knee or arm strength to pull up on, or using a disabled hoist to be swung in. Why couldn’t there be a simple ramp or steps with a handrail?
Look at this hotel pool: very elegant, but how do you get in if you have poor balance and you can’t step down safely if there isnt a rail.
Here is one answer though! A helpful human handrail.
Over 80 and closing your eyes makes you wobble. Great to feel a bit drunk, but not in a public shower. Need a grab bar in shower areas and anywhere I have to balance on one leg!
And “Dare I walk across that tiled wet floor?” I have become a coward! With poor balance, all wet surfaces are scary. Handrail please..or another charming attendant?
Getting fit at 80.
Most pools assume that you get fit by doing lengths. Not if you are old! They might even be warned against! Swimming slow breast stroke lengths with head held up is a pretty good recipe for a stiff neck and probably wont get you out of breath.
The Dream Pool!
Pretty, warm and inviting setting, maybe a palm tree and some loungers ..which are high enough to get up off at 80!
The pool itself would of course have shallow steps with two handrails. It would also have a handrail around the edge. Not for safety, but to use for exercises. That floating, body twisting , leg kicking, pulling, pushing……All great movement for flexibility, strength and cardiac fitness for which you do not have to be able to swim! There would be fun floats and an assistant trained and supervised by a Physio expert in Hydrotherapy (ie. someone who knows how water works as an exercise medium.) to advise what best programme to do.
Must have a sauna! New evidence, just published has shown that 30 minute sauna reduces blood pressure. And if that was combined with a good exfoliating scrub from a Moroccan Hammam lady, then oil massage, our flaky legs and wrinkles would feel marvellous.
Perhaps a massage couch with a masseuse trained Swedish Style by a Physio who knows just where those painful spots are…. A coffee bar and a nail bar, for toe nails! Essential at 80.
And some power jets? The kind with moveable nozzles you can aim at a painful knee or the bottom left bit of your spine that is always grumbling.
Seriously! If significant effort were made to ensure all older people had access to a facility like this on a weekly basis we could probably cut hospital and care home provision by half!
In the meantime, can we have a policy that:
All public pools of any kind should be age friendly, suitable for exercise, accessible with dignity and have all areas balance safe?
It seems to be a simple solution to have handrails everywhere they are needed! But that would be in a perfect world, it seems. Good luck in your quest to find a swimming pool that works for you, Grandma Williams!
Thank you for an excellent article — these principles should be enshrined in the policy for all local councils and government bodies. Now let me think: who is going to promote them…?
Brilliant – thanks for sharing Joyce. I’m a keen swimmer myself and often see older swimmers in the pool, but I had no idea of these challenges…
Yes, many good points here, particularly about the difficulty of getting in and out of the pool – who wants a hoist!!!!! Personally although I know that it supports the body while you exercise I don’t swim because I have quite bad eyesight so when I take the contacts out I can’t see a thing. Also taking out the contacts is a fiddle and I don’t like glasses, so I don’t swim. But there really should be greater accessibility and I’m with you there.
You’ve described my dilemma precisely. Which puts me off using any public pool that lacks handrails and has smooth and slippery floors. They’re just too scary for us old-timers.
Our apartment complex has the most wonderful facilities including a 20 metre, solar heated pool. There is a hoist, ramp, and best of all, handrails to help getting in and out. My husband and I swim and stretch every second day. We walk the other days for bone health. What amazes us is that only two other people seem to swim laps. How odd is That?
so where is this marvellous wonderful place, maureen? please share. it might at least be a prototype for council pools to investigate.
the one thing you haven’t mentioned here, the thing that bothers me and stops me from swimming, is the temperature of the water. perhaps due to my heart frailty, i can no longer manage the cold temperatures in my local council pool.