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Swim your way to fitness          

                            May 2009

SWIM YOUR WAY TO FITNESS

swimmingOne of the nicest things about warmer weather is that it makes it so much easier to exercise. We all know exercise is good, but in the cold dark winter days making the effort to get out and do something energetic can be a real challenge.

Not now. With the light evenings and warmer weather, it can be a real pleasure to start working on that important fitness.

Swimming is a great exercise for anyone over 50. First, it exercises all the body’s major muscles at once which means a really good work out. It also helps endurance, posture and flexibility all at the same time. Secondly, it exercises the cardiovascular system better than many other forms of exercise which is very good. A regular swim can help reduce blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Thirdly, and most important for people our age, swimming is the best exercise for anyone with vulnerable joints or injuries, or for anyone who is slightly overweight. Water gives us so much support, so the stress on joints and tendons is far less than if you were jogging or playing a ball game. It is also this buoyancy that makes swimming a safe activity carrying low risk of injury.

Another benefit from swimming is that it is a good way to relax and relieve stress. The activity results in more oxygen flowing to your muscles and it also helps you to regulate your breathing.

But to get the most from swimming, you need to do it efficiently, and also to do it using the correct techniques to ensure you exercise at the maximum without putting undue stress on any particular areas. Bad swimming techniques can actually aggravate certain problems. If you suffer from bad back, joint, heart or inner-ear problems, then it is a good idea to check with your doctor before taking it up.

The best way to get swimming is to look at it as a serious exercise. That means, before you get into the water, you need to do some gentle warm up exercises to get your body moving – stretching, slow jogging on the spot, that sort of thing. A good tip is to get in the shower before you enter the pool to make sure you – and your muscles - are really warm. It might make the water in the pool feel a little colder, but entering the swimming pool when you are already cold is not a good idea.

Once you are in the water, do a few gentle lengths to warm up a little more, and then gradually increase your pace.

The swimming strokes you use will make a difference; a sedate breast stroke is not going to burn as many calories as free style but could be perfect to ensure no strain is put on your shoulders or neck. It can be a really good idea to take a few swimming lessons to begin with just to check you have the right technique and are making the most of the exercise. Most pools have trainers and instructors that can advise or give private lessons.

Most local pools also run a variety of great classes including learning to swim classes and stroke improvement classes.

If you like the idea of exercising in water, but swimming up and down lanes sounds boring; then there are also a wide range of different activities in the water that might be perfect. Aquafit sessions, water aerobics, aquagym workouts – each pool will have its own specific classes and it is worth investigating a few to find out which you might enjoy the most.

Many local pools reserve special time slots for the over 50s and over 60s – often with special rates as well which is always welcome. These can also turn your exercise routine into a fun social occasion as well.

The best way to find out what is available in your area is to contact your local pool (the council will have contact details). There are also numerous private clubs which offer swimming. The Amateur Swimming Association runs nationwide schemes to help people improve their technique and can also advise on many other areas of the sport (see www.britishswimming.org )

Best of all, if you swim now; when you go on a beach holiday; you can enter the water with confidence knowing that your body will be very well toned and your swimming technique will be impressive!


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