Swimming - just what the doctor ordered

Image: Haley Phelps, Unsplash

Getting into the water can be more powerful than other healthcare interventions, according to a new wellbeing campaign from Swim England.

The national governing body has teamed up with the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) to encourage healthcare professionals to consider recommending swimming and aquatic activity to their patients. The Swimming as Medicine series outlines how transformative being active in water can be.

Regular swimming has been proven to help reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes, says Swim England. It is also beneficial for those with arthritis, obesity and joint pain, as the buoyancy of water reduces the impact on joints.

However, despite the clear benefits of swimming to individuals and communities, it is an option that can be overlooked within healthcare circles.

“My recommendation for healthcare professionals is to get into the water themselves, experience the benefits first-hand so you can communicate this credibly.”

Hussain Al-Zubaidi, Royal College of GPs

Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi, a GP in Leamington Spa and RCGP physical activity clinical champion, is a campaign ambassador and recommends healthcare professionals have conversations around swimming with their patients.

He said, “Seeing the impact patient conversations can have, gives you the motivation to continue striving to encourage and support lifestyle change.

“At the Royal College of GPs, we appreciate just how important physical activity is for a healthy and happy life. Swimming has several unique qualities which mean it is a fantastic option.

“My recommendation for any healthcare professional interested in signposting more patients is to get into the water themselves, experience the benefits first hand so you can communicate this credibly.”

Andrew Power, Swim England water wellbeing specialist, said, “More than 14 million people in England swim at some point each year, making it one of the nation's most popular forms of activity.

“Yet in conversations with patients, some healthcare professionals might find it easier to suggest walking and other activities with fewer perceived benefits to encourage the least active to be active.

“In some senses, that could be the right course of action to follow and might work for some. However, we know from our own research that one in three people with a long-term health condition or impairment would prefer to swim if given the choice.

“We also know that both people and professionals feel that water has a unique ability to support those who may be hesitant to engage in other forms of physical activity, either due to lack of fitness, chronic pain, lack of balance, poor mobility or other barriers. This is why we wanted to further emphasise the individual benefits through the launch of this series.”

Image: Jesper Stechmann, Unsplash

Swim England’s Poolfinder tool contains information on thousands of pools across the country and signposts to sites that support specific medical needs, for example with dementia-friendly swimming or warm hydrotherapy pools.

Information on the benefits of swimming with health conditions is also available. To find out more, visit the Swim England health and wellbeing hub.