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Aging Well: Is your swimming pool the fountain of youth?

Swimming regularly offers a wealth of cognitive benefits.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

Swimming laps is a terrific, low-impact exercise option and a pleasant way to work out… But there’s another reason to consider jumping in a pool: a growing body of research is finding that swimming in particular holds multiple, unique benefits for our brain health.

“These recent studies are fascinating, and the findings are increasingly positive,” says William Wesley Myers, director of wellness at Mather. Mather is the owner operator of The Mather, a Life Plan Community that is coming to Tysons in 2024. “We’re learning that science shows that swimming regularly can improve one’s cognitive function as well as short- and long-term memory, and may help repair damage caused by stress.”

Cynthia Sitcov of Arlington is a lifelong swimmer who is looking forward to moving to The Mather and enjoying the on-site indoor pool there. “I swim five days a week — it’s addictive for me,” she says. “If I go a day or two without swimming, my body craves it.”

A Proven Pool of Benefits

One study of older adults found that those who swam had improved attention and mental speed compared to a group that didn’t swim. And swimming can offer a cognitive boost to younger people: a study of younger athletes (including swimmers and land-based athletes) found that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity breaststroke swimming improved cognitive function. Children have been found to learn better after swimming than after anaerobic exercise or a resting activity like coloring.

“It’s exciting to see this scientific data supporting the benefits of such an accessible activity,” says William. “Swimming and aquatics classes are gentle on joints and don’t require great mobility. Anyone can use aquatic exercise to improve muscle endurance as well as core strength and endurance, while burning an estimated 400 to 500 calories in an hour of exercise.”

More specifically, research shows that aquatic exercise can help with the following:

  • Strengthen the cardiovascular and respiratory systems
  • Improve bone density — particularly in post-menopausal women
  • Boost pulmonary function and blood pressure
  • Increase muscular strength and stamina
  • Improve range of motion
  • Increase circulation
  • Reduce body fat and tone the body

Japanese researchers found that women age 60 to 75 who participated in regular aquatic exercise for 12 weeks demonstrated more strength, flexibility and agility, and had better total cholesterol levels, than a control group.

Swimming and aquatic exercise can also have a powerful effect on mood. Research has also shown that exercising in water is a natural mood-booster, enhancing self-esteem while reducing stress, anxiety and depression.

“Swimming for me is like meditation in motion; I count my laps and don’t think about anything else,” says Cynthia. “Even when I’m having a bad day, I’ll feel better after I swim. I never get out of the pool feeling lousy; I feel like my body was just plugged into an energy source.”

It can also be a social experience: “I’ve been swimming with the same people for 25 years,” says Cynthia. “We’ve solved the world’s problems, talking 10 minutes at a time in the locker room.”

All of the above seem like great reasons for everyone to give swimming and aquatic exercise a try. In other words, everyone in the pool!

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. The community’s comprehensive fitness center will include an indoor swimming pool.

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