Swimming or water exercise is an activity that anyone can do — with or without MS. And swimming has a long list of benefits, not the least of which is simple pleasure. So whether it’s a hot summer and you want to cool off, or it’s winter and you want to get out (to an indoor pool, of course), you CAN learn to swim like a fish!
Why is swimming so good for you?
Water is buoyant. It provides support and makes you feel lighter. You can achieve a greater range of motion thanks to water’s buoyancy, which also promotes muscle relaxation.
Water is viscous, which means it resists your movements. You move more slowly in water, allowing you to work on skills such as balance and coordination. Water’s viscosity can also improve muscle strength.
Water provides hydrostatic pressure, creating a sensation of compression. The deeper you go, the more pressure, giving you support for standing activities, such as walking.
Because of water’s unique qualities, swimming improves your endurance and cardiovascular fitness, as well as improving your strength, balance and flexibility.
Swimming reduces stress and helps you relax. It’s an adaptable exercise, too, meaning that if you get bored with one routine, you can try something else!
Swimming can provide social time, whether it’s splashing around with your kids or grandkids, or exercising with a group.
Swimming is one of the few exercises that will cool you down, rather than heat you up. Water at 81 to 83 degrees is the recommended range, although people with spasticity may find they need a slightly warmer temperature, as too low a temperature can increase their symptoms and decrease mobility. Try different pools to find out what temperature works best for you. Pools where competitive swimmers practice are generally kept cooler. But remember that a warm “therapeutic” pool will probably be too warm.
Learning to swim
Try a hydrotherapy class offered by a Society chapter, YMCA, or local recreation center. Under the watchful eyes of an instructor, you can learn various techniques and become more comfortable in the water.
If you decide to learn to swim without a class, ALWAYS have someone with you when you swim, just in case.
You don’t have to swim
If you don’t know how to swim, there are other water exercises that offer the same health benefits. If you feel tentative about being in the water, there are many flotation devices that will allow you to enjoy your activity anxiety-free.
If you have limited mobility, ask your chapter what local pools have lifts to get you in and out of the water. If you don’t have a recreation center nearby, try asking local motel owners if you could use their pools — the worst they can say is no! If you practice your swimming in the ocean, be careful with waves and undertow, and make sure a lifeguard is on duty.
Most importantly, TRY swimming to see if it works for you. It is an excellent way to achieve many positive benefits and to have fun!
Authors: Pat Kennedy, RN, CNP, MSCN, Nurse Educator, Can Do Multiple Sclerosis; Michele Harrison, PT, specializing in aquatic therapy.