Different strokes: The benefits of swimming for older people

Water-based workouts  like swimming, are one of the best ways for older Australians to prevent falls and help improve their balance.

Accredited Exercise Physiologist Carly Ryan says swimming is a great low impact way to help keep your body strong and healthy, and therefore prevent injuries.

The health benefits of swimming 

“Swimming is a great activity for cardiovascular health, and comes with all the benefits of exercise including improved heart health, flexibility, muscle tone, weight management along with mental health benefits such as improved mood,” says Ryan. 

In a 2014 study Australian researchers found that older men  involved in swimming were less likely to fall than those involved in other forms of exercise. It also found swimmers generally had better balance while standing still on their feet.
 
“Water provides natural resistance, so swimming provides muscle strength and balance benefits as well,” says Ryan. 

Take a load off

Ryan says swimming can be ideal for people with injuries and/or pain from conditions like arthritis, because the buoyancy of water reduces the impact on joints.

“The reduced impact of water exercise provides the great benefits of regular exercise while reducing the load on injured areas,” says Ryan. “For this reason, many people find they can complete more exercise in the water than they could on land.”

“Hydrotherapy pools also keep the water temperature warm, which is often used for rehabilitation purposes as it can reduce muscle and joint stiffness/pain.”
older couple in swimmers sitting on steps

Mixing it up

If you’re keen to get into the water but you don’t enjoy laps, there are plenty of other water-based exercises to try.

“This might be an exercise class such as aqua aerobics, performing basic resistance exercises such as leg swings, calf raises and arm circles, or even something as simple as walking in the water.”

Ryan also suggests trying training aids like kickboards, pull buoys and flippers to mix things up and work different muscle groups.

Social swimming

While swimming laps can seem like a solitary sport, there are plenty of other options for those who prefer to exercise with others.

“The popularity and therefore availability of aqua exercise classes has increased significantly over the last 10-15 years and so more people are choosing to complete classes for the social benefits,” says Ryan.

While most of us have heard of water aerobics, many pools or gyms also offer resistance classes, yoga and even dance sessions. Check in with your local pool to see what’s on offer. 

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