Exercise in your senior years is very important for your heart, your brain, and your joints. Yet, you might not have it in you to do heavy lifting at the gym or even run a mile at the park. Swimming is an excellent exercise alternative for seniors.
Swimming is good for seniors because it helps build core muscles and balance, lowering the risk of falls. It’s a low-impact exercise that’s easy on the joints and can reduce the pain that comes with arthritis. Swimming can also lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and sarcopenia.
You might be hesitant to try any new style of exercise once you get to your senior years. So, let’s go over every reason that swimming might just be your next best option!
Greater Balance & Coordination
According to the National Council on Aging, about 25% of those aged 65 and older will fall each year. This puts you at greater risk of suffering from a traumatic brain injury, breaking a bone, or even dying.
Falls in the elderly are often a result of poor balance and coordination.
The good news is that scientific evidence shows that swimming can help to improve reaction time, coordination, and balance in seniors. The combination of these three will reduce your risk of falling and hurting yourself.
Swimming is considered a full-body exercise, but it’s also incredible at building up your core muscles. The muscles in your abdominal area, as well as your lower back, play a huge role in your ability to walk and keep a good posture when standing.
That’s exactly why one study found that seniors that swim are less likely to experience postural sway (unsteadiness when standing) and are able to complete a narrow walk much quicker and much more accurately.
Swimming is also much safer, as compared to running or walking because you’re horizontal in the water. That means it’s not possible to fall and injure yourself when swimming in the pool and your balance outside of the water will be even better.
Conditions like osteoarthritis are extremely common in seniors, especially as you continue to get older. In fact, osteoarthritis might affect more than 10% of older adults in America. Such a diagnosis causes joint stiffness and pain, which can make exercise more difficult.
Swimming is unique in that sense.
There’s a good amount of evidence that shows those with osteoarthritis might actually benefit from aerobic activities like swimming and cycling. That’s because these types of exercises are known to reduce the pain that comes along with these conditions.
Let’s talk about the reasons why it is this way.
The first benefit of swimming in your senior years is that you’re keeping active. The more often you use your muscles, bones, and joints, the less likely you are to develop conditions like osteoarthritis. As you continue to build up the strength in your muscles and joints, the severity of your pain will greatly reduce.
Yet, you also need to consider the fact that swimming is much more gentle on the body. Unlike running where you’re frequently pounding your lower body joints onto the pavement, swimming reduces the amount of pressure on your joints by up to 90%.
Swimming not only will improve your joint health but won’t be as painful to do. You can also go at your own pace based on your joint conditions.
Better Heart Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is considered to be the leading cause of death in America. The chances of developing heart disease greatly increase as you get older.
Yet, you might be concerned about high-intensity exercise and the strain it might put on an already weak heart. The good news is that swimming is usually pretty easy on the heart.
In fact, one study focused on seniors that participated in a 10-week swimming program to see how it impacted cardiovascular health. This study proved that swimming could reduce systolic blood pressure by 12% and arterial pressure by 6% in senior citizens.
It also reduced the severity of hypertension and resting heart rate.
The lower your blood pressure, the less strain on your heart to pump blood throughout your body. That means you’re much less likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke or heart attack in your senior years.
Swimming can either delay or completely prevent these conditions from occurring. These effects are even more noticeable if you’re eating a healthy diet.
Reduced Risk of Dementia
You probably know that your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease increases with each passing decade. The World Health Organization suggests that more than 5% of those 60 years and older have dementia.
This is a condition where the memory function of your brain slowly starts to fade. What you might not know is that exercise has been proven to be an effective way to prevent or delay the development of dementia.
Here’s what we know.
In a long-term study focused on elderly individuals, dementia seemed to develop in 20 out of 1,000 people who didn’t exercise often. On the other hand, the rates of dementia were down to 13 out of every 1,000 participants in those who spent three days a week or more exercising.
That means the more often you exercise, the lower your risk of developing dementia. That all comes down to the effects of exercise on the hippocampus in the brain. This is the portion of the brain that handles memory and it shrinks significantly less with exercise.
Just how much you exercise will depend on your abilities.
Most major health organizations will recommend exercising at least 150 minutes a week. When it comes to swimming, this can be broken down into five 30-minute swimming sessions each and every week.
Better Muscular Strength
No matter how active you are, your body will naturally begin to lose muscle mass and strength as the years go on. This is a condition known as sarcopenia and it can actually reduce your muscular strength by 10% or more every decade.
The problem is that weightlifting might be too strenuous for you right now.
The positive here is that swimming is a great activity for both building cardiovascular endurance as well as building muscular strength.
Think about why.
You’re using the muscles in your upper body to perform the stroke as well as your lower body to kick your legs. Swimming also requires a lot out of your core muscles to keep your body straight while swimming in the water.
Instead of using resistance in the form of heavy barbells and dumbbells, you’re using the resistance of the water instead. This can lower your risk of muscle loss with age.
Plus, the improvement in muscular strength can benefit you both in the pool and in your daily life. You might notice that you have better balance when standing or running and daily tasks aren’t as stressful on your joints.
Swimming is likely one of the safest exercises that seniors can do. That’s because it’s extremely easy on the joints and doesn’t put excess strain on your heart. It might even lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and your risk of developing heart disease.
Yet, the effects of swimming go well past the cardiovascular benefits. It’s also known to improve muscular strength and reduce muscle wasting (sarcopenia). You can then successfully lower your risk of developing dementia.
Don’t know how to swim? No problem! Here’s a video demonstrating a few tips for learning how to swim in your adult years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YsRGkPjeAc
- PubMed: Effects of Swimming on Eye Hand Coordination and Balance in the Elderly
- Oxford Academic: Swimming and Other Sporting Activities and the Rate of Falls in Older Men: Longitudinal Findings From the Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project
- PubMed: Improved Function and Reduced Pain After Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients With Osteoarthritis
- NIH: The Effects of a 10-Week Water Aerobic Exercise on the Resting Blood Pressure in Patients with Essential Hypertension
- NIH: Regular exercise reduces risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- World Health Organization: Physical Activity and Adults
- CDC: Heart Disease Facts
- NIH: Muscle Changes in Aging
- International Osteoporosis Foundation: WHAT IS SARCOPENIA?