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Stay Up With Swimming

Swimming May Protect Against Falls in Older Adults

Summer is just about here, which for many people means trips to the beach, dips in the lake, or visits to a favorite local pool—or for some the backyard! Swimming is the sport of the season, but perhaps it should become a habit year round. A 2014 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology finds swimming may be particularly beneficial for older adults, linking regular swimming to lower risk of falls.

Australian researchers followed more than 1,600 men aged 70 years and older as part of the Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project (CHAMP) in Sydney, Australia. Men completed questionnaires on their usual physical activity and several physical tests to measure balance. For about three and a half years, men reported whether they had fallen, and if so, how many times, every four months.

Of all physical activities reported, swimming was the only sport associated with lower risk of falling. Swimmers experienced 33% fewer falls, possibly due to the effect swimming has on balance. Swimming requires engagement of core muscles to maintain a horizontal body position in the water, which may improve core strength thus improving balance. Swimmers in this study had the fastest time on a narrow walk test (think balance beam) and performed the best when asked to stand still on a foam rubber mat.

If you’re not a regular swimmer, summer is the perfect time to dive in. Join your local health club or YMCA with a pool or check out your local community pool, which may offer classes designed for older adults. Many high schools and colleges with pools have hours that are open to the public—these venues often come equipped with kickboards and flotation devices to assist in your exercise. Whether you’re at a country club, lake or in your own backyard, stay safe while you swim, and always swim near a lifeguard if you’re new to the sport.

Bonus: Swimming may help you live longer. Previous research found regular swimmers were 53% less likely to die of any cause compared to people who didn’t exercise, and up to 50% less likely to die compared with walkers and runners.

Published June 1, 2015

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