Swimming is perhaps the best exercise in existence – and increasingly one of the most accessible.
There are so many reasons to give swimming – or at least getting into your local pool – a try this summer. Whether you head to your local YMCA, physical therapy clinic, or just the public pool, you stand to realize a lot of benefits!
If you are chronically ill or disabled, swimming may seem like a long-forgotten dream. But today’s public pools are much more accessible than they once were.
If you aren’t sure, call ahead to ask about accessibility.
For those that have access to one, working with a physical therapist during your time in the pool is a good idea. If this is not something you can do, look for easy, safe exercises you can try in the water on a reputable medical website.
Be sure to take precautions before you head to the pool. Wear waterproof sunscreen if you will be outdoors, and wear pool-safe shoes regardless of the setting you will be in. Don’t put yourself at risk unncessarily!
Ready to learn more about the big benefits you could see by incorporating water therapy or pool time into your regular self-care routine? Check out these seven major reasons to get in the water:
Reduction of Gravity’s Pull on the Body
One of the most well-known benefits of being in the water for those with chronic illness, disability, or injury is that the force of gravity works very differently on the body in water.
I am chronically ill. I have sciatica, arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and other painful conditions. I am also overweight.
All of this works together to make just existing pretty painful – and gravity is not my friend!
In the water, bodies like mine are relieved of the full force of gravity and are better able to move. This makes strengthening exercises easier. It makes movement in general less painful.
And honestly? It just feels great.
The biggest and best reason to get in the water for people like me and you is that we can live with a little less pain and stress on our bodies. That means we can exercise, recover, and heal with less resistance – and just relax a little bit in the bodies we live in.
Many people who are unable to walk unassisted can do so in the water.
That is because they are actually floating, with their body’s weight supported as much by the water as by their own two feet. I know that when I was a wheelchair user during my teen years, I loved getting in the pool and being able to “walk” on my own!
Whatever the benefits are that you are hoping for with swimming or spending time in the pool, it all begins by freeing yourself from the weight of gravity.
Enhanced Resistance and Gentle Hydrostatic Pressure
When your body is underwater, you are under constant, gentle pressure. That force is called hydrostatic pressure, and it has a host of benefits.
I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t I just say that there was LESS pressure on the body in the water? Well, yes – but gravity and hydrostatic pressure are different forces.
While gravity can make pain worse, hydrostatic pressure typically has the opposite impact. Like compression garments, hydrostatic pressure gently pushes on every part of the body at once – and offers the same benefits, everywhere at once.
What are those benefits? First, the muscles and joints receive gentle pressure, which can help to reduce pain and inflammation. I have never met a spoonie who wouldn’t love that.
Secondly, the heart and lungs have to work harder under this pressure. This sounds like a negative effect, but it actually helps to build these muscles and improve the health of the cardiovascular system and more.
As with anything, you should check with your doctor or health care provider before undergoing hydrotherapy or exercising in a pool. Because of the stress that hydrostatic pressure can put your heart and lungs under, it is not safe for those who have serious issues with those systems.
That pressure we just mentioned – the pressure that puts your heart and lungs under mild stress? Let’s talk about why that’s good for you.
Many of us who spend a lot of time in bed, sitting down, or otherwise sedentary experience issues with circulation as a result. That lack of circulation can cause more serious issues down the road. It is a vicious cycle.
Being in the water and under hydrostatic pressure will cause the heart and lungs to move blood through the body at a slightly faster rate. This rise in blood pressure will improve circulation.
The rise in your heart rate and the harder work of your lungs also helps to improve the oxygen levels in your blood. If you did not learn anything else in the last year of news coverage, the COVID-19 health crisis probably taught you just how important good oxygen levels are to maintaining health – and staying alive.
Regular visits to the pool can help to train your body to improve your circulation overall. Even occasional sessions of swimming or time in the pool can help to get that good, oxygen-rich blood to every part of your body and improve your overall health.
That is one kind of stress that most of us can actually benefit from!
Who doesn’t love a massage? You probably do – I know I love it. But if you are anything like me, you probably don’t have the time or the money to enjoy regular sessions with a masseuse.
Water offers a completely free massage, every time you get in. Well, free, less the cost of any admission you might have paid to use the pool. Let’s be entirely honest, the pool is not always free.
However, the cost of pool admission is almost guaranteed to be significantly lower than the cost of a massage. And while it will not provide exactly the same results, it does offer many of the same benefits.
The movement of water over and around the body stimulates the brain in a way that is similar to a massage. That is because that movement combines fluidity and gentle pressure to mimic massage on the skin and muscles.
If you are already planning to get in the pool, it is great news to know you will also get the benefits of massage – without all the cost!
Decreased Nerve Sensation
Fibromyalgia and many other chronic illnesses make it painful to even be touched. I know that when I am having a flare, I cannot even hug my children without caution and care. It is no fun!
When you are in the water, that hydrostatic pressure that we mentioned previously causes a strange and frankly wonderful side effect on the body. The constant, gentle pressure decreases nerve sensation.
Decreased nerve sensation may sound bad, but if you are a fibro or other chronic pain patient, you know that it can be a blessing. It means that you can focus on something other than hurting for once!
With a decreased level of pain, you can work a little harder on those aquatic exercises or just being present in the moment. This can speed recovery and healing and generally makes the pool a great place to be.
Enjoy some time in the pool – and time without the constant pain you often experience.
Have you ever heard of muscle memory? Muscle memory is the process by which your muscles learn certain common movements or series of movements and are able to perform them almost without you thinking about it.
If you shave, you have experienced muscle memory. Your hand naturally starts on the same part of your face, leg, etc., every time you perform the task. You don’t have to think about it; your body just does the darn thing!
When you are coping with a chronic illness, you may experience deterioration of your muscles or connective tissue. You may also experience muscle cramping, weakness, and other symptoms that can damage muscle memory.
Swimming and moving through the water takes more time than moving through air. This means that you have time to really think about your movements – and your body is moving through the full range of motion for every movement you make.
That slower, more deliberate movement means that those muscles can relearn the skills that they once knew. You may see improvement in the use of those muscles over time, and perhaps even the return of muscle memory in some areas.
So Much Fun!
Of course, one of the biggest reasons to choose time in the pool as a way to relax and rebuild your body is because it is so much fun! Whether you are five or eighty-five years old, everyone loves getting in the pool.
Not sure the pool sounds like fun for you? Try some of these quick tricks to change your mindset:
- Buy a new swimsuit that is comfortable and makes you look and feel great. Cover up or dress down as much as you want!
- Listen to music. If you have the opportunity, listen to your favorite music and move through the water to the beat.
- Bring a friend. The water is always more fun with someone you love talking to in the pool with you.
- Float on. Love to relax? There are few things more relaxing after a gentle water workout than hopping on a float and letting your cares melt away as the water moves you.
- Stay in the shallow end. Can’t really swim? Don’t endanger or stress yourself out. Stay in the shallow end and get all the benefits without the worries.
- Reward yourself. Once you have finished your time in the water, reward yourself with a warm shower or bath – whichever you have the energy for. Just be sure to let your body temperature acclimate first; otherwise, you may end up shocking your system! (I would know!)
So, what are your favorite things about the pool? Why do you love the water? Did you know these things before reading this post? I would love to hear your thoughts!