In addition to being a fun recreational activity and a way to cool off on hot days, swimming is a terrific form of exercise for older adults and their caregivers. It’s a low-impact sport, which is beneficial for people suffering from sports injuries or conditions like arthritis. For older adults especially, maintaining an active lifestyle is critical for overall health, and many take to swimming regularly. This post examines some of the most important benefits of swimming for loved ones as they age.
1. Low-Impact Exercise is Ideal for Aging Joints
Swimming is low-impact, non-weight-bearing exercise. That means it doesn’t put pressure on the spine, knees, or hips; in fact, the buoyancy of water supports some of your body weight and reduces the effect of gravity, which alleviates some of the regular strain on these joints. It’s especially helpful for seniors who have conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. According to a 2016 study, swimming helps to relieve pain and improve quality of life among people with knee osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
2. Improves Flexibility & Range of Motion
By reducing the strain on the joints, the buoyancy of water allows swimmers to more easily move their limbs through the full range of motion. Doing this regularly helps to keep joints supple and improves flexibility, an important factor for older adults’ health and well-being. For aging people with a limited range of motion on land, stretching in the water is a good way to improve flexibility.
3. Improves Stability, Reducing Risk of Falls
Swimming works all major muscle groups, resulting in stronger muscles overall, especially the upper body, core muscles, and leg muscles – all important for posture and stability, which reduces the risk of falls. One study conducted in Australia evaluated 1,700 men age 70 and older and found that those who swam were 33% less likely to fall compared to men who did not swim. What’s more, men who participated in other forms of exercise in addition to swimming (such as golfing or using treadmills or stationary bikes) were no less likely to fall compared to those who only participated in swimming.
4. Promotes Cardiovascular Health
According to the Swim Strong Foundation, swimming for 30 minutes per day can reduce coronary heart disease (CHD) by 30 to 40 percent in women. Men can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than 10 percent if they swim breaststroke for 30 minutes three times per week, burning an estimated 900 calories. Regular aerobic exercise such as swimming reduces blood pressure and helps to raise good cholesterol levels (HDLs). An 1 percent increase in HDL cholesterol reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 3.5 percent. If an aging adult has a medical condition, such as a heart condition, that might be aggravated by aerobic exercise, it’s best for them to check with their doctor before beginning a new activity. If a healthcare provider says it’s safe to swim, the benefits to cardiovascular health will be significant.
5. Provides Socialization Opportunities
Senior swimming programs or group water exercise classes provide opportunities for older adults to socialize and meet new people. One study found that participating in group exercise contributes to balanced health among older adults, providing a sense of community and social connectedness that can help to reduce feelings of social isolation and depression. Because it’s easier for older adults with conditions such as arthritis to participate in swimming compared with other forms of exercise, people may be more likely to stick with group swimming lessons compared to high-impact exercises to achieve long-term health benefits.
6. Improves Sleep
A 2009 study found that 50% of older adults have difficulty sleeping, and poor sleep leads to an increased risk of mortality. Another study found that aerobic exercise, such as swimming, improves self-reported sleep and quality of life for older adults. Swimming burns a lot of calories and works all the major muscle groups, leaving older adults physically tired enough to make falling asleep easier. Many also say that swimming leaves them feeling relaxed, which is a necessary ingredient for a good night’s sleep. Because swimming is a good way to relax the body and the mind, it can also help to reduce stress and anxiety, boosting both mental and physical health. Taking into account the social benefits of participating in group exercises and activities, starting to swim regularly is an excellent idea for promoting overall health and well-being.
Do you need help caring for an aging friend or relative? Learn more about Careforth’s support and coaching program for family caregivers.
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