January 01, 2018

Swimming into a Healthier and Happier Retirement

By Carolanne Caron

When you’re working, your brain is “on” all the time, your thoughts are racing in different directions, and your body is going through a lot of stress. Over the years, you get used to this state of being, and it becomes your ‘normal’ state.

Then you get asked to retire, whether by your colleagues, your significant other, your body, or yourself, and your definition of normal changes. Depending on your own situation, retirement can be difficult in the sense that you’re changing your daily routine, or it can be a welcome break. Whichever scenario pertains to you, swimming can help with this transition in many ways.

Something to Look Forward to

When we first start to think of retirement, we start to think about who’ll take over our clients or what will happen to everything we’ve worked so hard to build.

We don’t often think about what we’ll do with our newfound freedom. You should. At the beginning stages of the planning for your transition to retirement, you should start to incorporate an activity you enjoy or that you’ve always wanted to learn, like swimming, into your weekly routine. As your load at the office lightens, swimming can take up more of your time so that when the time comes and you’ve achieved full retirement status, you already have something to look forward to doing the next day.

Reasons to Dip Your Toes in

Why do I advocate swimming? There are tons of reasons. Here are just four:

1. Health benefits—In addition to helping you transition into a new lifestyle, swimming has many health benefits. Some of the well-known benefits of swimming are that it’s a good cardiovascular workout that’s easy on the joints. It’s also low impact on the bones and has a lower risk of injury when done correctly.

Swimming aids in improving your heart health, lung capacity, and blood pressure. It also helps you lose weight when combined with a nutritious meal plan. “Every 10 pounds you lose is about a 10 percent increase in function of the body,” according to Daniel McGuffie, doctor of physical therapy at Connections Physical Therapy in Merrimack, N.H. That means you could live longer, enjoy family and friends more, make fewer visits to the doctor for ailments, and swim longer. Some lesser-known health benefits include helping to improve your posture, allowing your body to stretch out, providing a freeing feeling that promotes relaxation, allowing for a total body workout in a compact amount of time, and moving your body and muscles from bad stress obtained from day-to-day activity to good stress where your muscles are more fully worked to their potential. Speaking of stress, have you ever wanted to tune out the day, but you just couldn’t stop moving, thinking, or planning? Swimming allows you to get in your own meditative state with the relaxing movement of the water carrying you back and forth in the pool. It allows your body to keep moving while your brain tunes out and relaxes. And it lets you leave the issues you were trying to work out in your head at the pool door to be picked up when you leave. For me, swimming lets my brain relax so I can put together the puzzle pieces that wouldn’t come together while I was trying so hard to think them through. I often leave the pool with a new “ah-ha” moment or idea that clarifies something I’ve been thinking about.

2. The variety—When thinking of swimming, many people think of the traditional freestyle, or front crawl, stroke. But swimmers can go beyond freestyle to work different muscle groups and change their breathing patterns with a variety of strokes like elementary backstroke, backstroke, breaststroke, and even butterfly.

Incorporating different strokes and workouts into your swim routine will help to balance out the muscles your body is using and give you that full-body workout that’s so good for you. Swimming also compliments land exercises well. “Since swimming is done in water and is weightless, it uses muscles differently than land-based exercises and makes it valuable as a cross-training tool,” says McGuffie. You’ll find many types of swimming activities to suit your different lifestyle needs. If you want to spend time in groups and socialize while exercising in the water, you can choose water aerobics classes, water-toning classes, and even synchronized swimming designed for a more mature adult. When you want a little more solitude, you can escape while swimming laps, enjoying water walking, relaxing in the serenity of open-water swimming, participating on a master’s team, or exploring multisport activities that incorporate swimming.

3. You can start now—You may be saying: “I’ve never really swum, so I surely can’t start now.”

I disagree. It’s never too late to learn. The oldest swimmer I’ve taught to swim started at 66 years old, and the oldest swimmer I’ve helped improve their swim was 86 years old. Conveniently, there are swim classes designed specifically for mature adults, and there are private classes for those who want more one-on-one attention. How do you choose? If you’re ready to sign up for start-to-swim classes or private lessons, make sure you get an instructor who specializes in adult learners or, if applicable, fear-of-water students. The right instructor will adapt the lesson plans to spend time on subjects you have difficulty with, speed though subjects you naturally pick up, won’t skip the basics of breath control and floating, and can help you achieve your goals, whether they’re just to have fun or to compete. Also make sure the swimming environment is accessible for any limited-mobility issues you might have. An advantage of mature-learner classes is that they’re usually held during the day, so you’re not competing with the swim team or the children’s lessons for pool time. You can come when the pool isn’t as busy and enjoy the company of others while not having to worry about getting bumped into or swum over by a younger swimmer. Many pools also welcome programming ideas for during the day. So if your pool doesn’t offer classes at the time you’d like to go, see the pool manager to make your suggestions.

4. You can have fun—The most important point to remember is that swimming should be fun. If it’s not fun, there may be something you need to correct in your stroke to make it more efficient, or maybe you just need to try a different variety of swimming activity. Talk to your coach and see how the coach can help you enjoy swimming more.

Remember to give yourself time to recover in between workouts. If you haven’t swum before or you haven’t swum in a long time, you’re likely to feel sore after a workout. Sore is OK, but hurting isn’t. Never push through pain. Let the pain be an indicator that you need professional help to use the correct muscles to make your swim strong, and stop swimming until that’s addressed. You can discuss the pain with your swim coach and, if it’s something they can’t help with, they can refer you to a great physical therapist. Personally, I love that I have Dr. McGuffie as a part of my team to help my swimmers when the issue is muscular and not technique based. A good swim coach for mature adults will have a great physical therapist they work closely with to help you achieve your goals.

Set Goals, and Share Them

When you work with an instructor, a coach, or a physical therapist one on one to improve your swimming, make sure you share your goals. If these people don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, they can’t help you get closer to where you want to be.

Feel free to share with them what you’re trying to accomplish from the beginning. If they take the time to understand what your goals are and assess where you’re starting from, it’s likely to be a very good relationship going into the future. We all need professionals we can rely on to help us achieve our dreams, and retirement dreams are no less important than work-related dreams. Trust your instinct, your body, and your coach, and you’ll be able to have fun, go after your dreams, and enjoy your retirement in better health than you ever realized.

By Carolanne Caron

CAROLANNE CARON is a swimming coach, author, speaker, and a swimming and water safety expert who specializes in teen and adult learners, people with fear of water, and keeping everyone safer in and around the water. She has successfully helped students from 18 months through 86 years old achieve their swim goals. You can reach her at www.SwimCoachCaron.com.