Take the plunge! It's not too late for grown-ups to learn to swim


  • Fitness
  • Friday, 11 Oct 2019

Photo: dpa

Getting your feet wet in a new activity can be difficult at any age, especially if you’ve got to get the rest of your body wet too. But learning how to swim in adulthood is more difficult than in your youth, in part because you may have developed a fear of water.

Overcoming the fear is worth it though, any health and fitness expert will tell you. Swimming is a very healthy exercise, particularly for adults. It’s easy on their joints since the buoyancy of water reduces the impact on them.

“In water we only have to carry 20% to 25% of our body weight,” says Janina-Kristin Goetz, an instructor in the Department of Sport Science at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany.

Consequently, swimming in warm water can even be relaxing, and in cold water it boosts the body’s energy turnover and causes metabolism to pick up. It’s a full-body exercise as nearly all of your muscles are used.

Also, you can control the stress on your muscles easily, so swimming is well suited to rehabilitation as well as physical conditioning. But, swimming isn’t a magic recipe for fitness since mastery of proper technique is important. This is especially true of the breaststroke.

“As it’s commonly swum, the breaststroke causes massive problems in the neck area and frequently in the lower spine as well,” says Ulrike Urbaniak, who heads the masters sport division of the German Swimming Federation. The reason is the awkward posture of your head if you want to keep it above water.

Especially for adults who are learning to swim, the backstroke is a good way to get started. Breathing, in particular, is easier – you can do it in your own rhythm since your mouth and nose are usually above water.

The first step in becoming a swimmer isn’t proper breathing rhythm or overall technique, but simply getting used to being in the water. Like kids, adults should accustom themselves gradually to being in contact with the element.

“Just splashing about is most important of all,” Urbaniak says, noting that adults need considerably more time to acclimatise to water than children do. Games or simple exercises, such as those done in water aerobics, can help.

Proper technique is also usually harder for adults. “Our motor skills improve from birth until the age of 20. After 30, they decline,” Goetz explains. This is why adults are often unable to master the finer points of swimming technique. An adult’s personal motivation is therefore more important than technique.

If you’re embarrassed by learning to swim at an advanced age or extremely afraid of water, you’ll likely have a rough time of it. You’d then best be served by joining a swimming club, many of which offer special courses for adults – even total neophytes.

“For adults, fear is indeed the main obstacle, and it can be overcome by special exercises and a step-by-step approach,” says swimming club instructor Christina Krusenbaum. So why not take the plunge? – dpa


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