A lifelong aversion to swimming
Ian Johnston, a journalist for The Scotsman, had always hated swimming. He described it as his sporting equivalent of “boiled carrots” – something he would avoid as much as possible. He had never learned to swim properly as a child, and felt uncomfortable and insecure in the water. He dreaded the school swimming lessons, where he would cling to the side of the pool or use a float to stay afloat. He also disliked the cold, the chlorine, and the changing rooms. He had no interest in swimming as a leisure activity or a form of exercise.
A change of heart during the pandemic
However, everything changed for Johnston during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he decided to give swimming another chance. He was inspired by his wife, who had taken up swimming as a way to cope with the stress and anxiety of the lockdown. She encouraged him to join her at the local pool, where they could book a lane for themselves and swim at their own pace. Johnston agreed to try it, thinking that it would be a good way to stay fit and healthy during the pandemic.
To his surprise, Johnston found that he actually enjoyed swimming. He learned to relax in the water, to breathe properly, and to improve his technique. He felt a sense of achievement and satisfaction after each session, and noticed the benefits for his mental and physical health. He also discovered the joy of swimming in different places, such as the sea, the lochs, and the rivers. He became fascinated by the history and culture of swimming, and read books and articles about it. He even joined a swimming club, where he met other swimmers who shared his passion.
The benefits of swimming for older adults
Johnston is not alone in his newfound love for swimming. According to a recent survey by Swim England, more than a third of adults aged 55 and over have taken up swimming or increased their swimming frequency since the start of the pandemic. The survey also found that swimming has helped them cope with the challenges of the pandemic, such as loneliness, isolation, and stress. Swimming has also improved their physical health, such as their mobility, strength, and cardiovascular fitness.
Swimming is widely regarded as one of the best forms of exercise for older adults, as it is low-impact, gentle on the joints, and suitable for all levels of ability. Swimming can also reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, and improve the quality of life for people with conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and dementia. Swimming can also boost the mood, memory, and cognitive function of older adults, as it stimulates the production of endorphins, serotonin, and neurotrophins.
How to start swimming later in life
For those who want to start swimming later in life, Johnston has some advice. He suggests finding a pool that suits your needs, such as the temperature, the size, and the availability of lanes. He also recommends getting some professional guidance, such as a swimming instructor, a coach, or a friend who can swim well. He says that learning the basics, such as the breathing, the stroke, and the rhythm, is essential for enjoying swimming and avoiding injuries. He also advises setting realistic goals, such as the distance, the time, or the frequency, and tracking your progress.
Johnston also encourages trying different types of swimming, such as open water swimming, which can offer a different experience and challenge. He says that swimming in natural environments, such as the sea, the lakes, or the rivers, can be exhilarating, refreshing, and rewarding. However, he warns that open water swimming requires more preparation and safety measures, such as checking the weather, the water quality, and the currents, wearing appropriate clothing and equipment, and swimming with a buddy or a group.
Johnston says that swimming has changed his life for the better, and he hopes that more people will discover the benefits of swimming, especially in later life. He says that swimming is not only a sport, but also a hobby, a therapy, and a way of life. He says that swimming has given him a new perspective, a new community, and a new passion. He says that swimming is no longer his sporting equivalent of “boiled carrots”, but rather his “favourite dish”.