I didn’t set out to become a swimmer. But given my leg problems, my choice was basically to start swimming or to give up exercise entirely. So I chose swimming. And now I’m here to convert all of you to the cause.
LONDON – I’m rarely an evangelist for anything athletic. While my kids and my husband are all very sporty, I just wasn’t born with that particular gene. (My best “sports” are bowling, ping pong and pool, if that gives you any sense for my athletic prowess.) But like so many things in middle age, you can find yourself doing things in your 40s and 50s that you never imagined even five years earlier.
I didn’t set out to become a swimmer. Sure, I’d taken the usual lessons at the local YMCA as a kid, where I learned enough of the basics to stay afloat. And think I even learned how to do a “back dive” at sleepaway camp a couple of years later. But that was all 30-odd plus years ago in a galaxy far, far away. I didn’t enjoy swimming very much and I wasn’t particularly good at it. For me, swimming was sort of like learning how to boil water for pasta: a useful skill, but nothing you’d want to invest time or energy into perfecting.
Instead, as a grown up, I went running for my exercise. But after years and years of running, I finally made a decision last year to stop. My right leg had been aching on and off for ages – piriformis syndrome, for those who are counting (reciting obscure aches and pains being another tell-tale sign of middle age) – and after going to physical therapy for four months and seeing no improvement, I decided that running simply wasn’t in the cards for me any more.
“Why don’t you take up swimming?” My doctor suggested. “It’s much lower impact on your knees.”
“Swimming,” I thought? “But that’s so…cold…And wet…And cold.”
But given my leg problems – and the reality that “fast walking” sounded like something my mother might do – my choice was basically to start swimming or to give up exercise entirely. So I chose swimming. And now I’m here to convert all of you to the cause.
To wit, five reasons to take up swimming in adulthood:
1. Fewer Injuries. One of the great things about swimming is that it is a low-injury sport. Because it is a non-weight-bearing and low-impact way to get an aerobic workout, the chance of injury remains relatively low even at competitive levels.While you do hear about “swimmer’s shoulder,” you are far less likely to get hurt swimming than you are doing other sports, especially running. And so even for those of us with a high threshold for pain, that is only good news.
2. Upper body workout. After years of running, my legs are decently toned. But my arms basically look like some sort of hastily improvised white “surrender” flag – long sticks with loose flesh bobbing off of them, constructed entirely of marshmallows. Strengthening my arms has always lurked somewhere in the distant background as something I should eventually get around to fixing (probably about 1000 items down on my priority list, right after repairing all my broken jewelry and figuring out the place of religion in my life.) But after only three or four months of swimming, I’m already beginning to see a tiny bit of definition in my arms. Mind you, I’m no Michelle Obama. But after a lifetime of squishiness, it’s great to something up there that looks vaguely like muscle.
3.Mindfulness. Something I *am* an evangelist for is mindfulness. It helps with relaxation, it helps with inter-personal relationships and it helps with creativity. Swimming is fantastic for mindfulness. There’s something about swimming up and down those lanes, following that black line, that really puts you in the moment. I always feel more focused and relaxed when I emerge from the water.
4. Community. I’m a very social person. One of the things I always disliked about running was that it felt very solitary. I do recognise that you can run with a friend or in groups. But even then, you’re outdoors, so you don’t get that distinctive sub-culture feeling you get when you’re in a swimming pool. Part of it is that there are all sorts of social niceties that you need to observe in a pool that force you to interact with others (taking turns, changing direction in lanes, bumping into one another, etc.) Also, because I tend to swim at the same time in the morning three times a week, I’m now starting the same people on a regular basis. Over time, they’ve stopped looking at me like the new kid on the block and have begun talking to me. (This being England, they usually begin with the weather, but hey, it’s a start.) As someone who loves making new friends – especially with people quite different to me – I love this budding sense of community.
5. You surprise yourself. I’ve also started taking swimming lessons so that I can perfect some of my strokes. I showed up the first day expecting to only work on the front crawl, but after a few lengths, the coach suggested that I try back stroke, even though I’d not done the backstroke since all those years ago at the YMCA. And guess what? I’m actually pretty good at it and it’s become my favourite stroke. For me, that’s what adulthood is all about.
Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Guardian. She blogs about adulthood at realdelia.com.
Image: Swimmers via Pixabay.com