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The Zen of Swimming

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If you want to break the record for being the longest living human and also want to keep feeling as strong and pain-free as possible, start swimming. A 32-year study of men ages 20 to 90 found that swimmers had the lowest mortality rate, beating walkers and even runners.

Some advantages: Swimming peels off the pounds. Even a slow crawl burns more calories than walking or cycling. (You’d have to run six miles per hour or more to beat it.) It’s the ideal exercise for arthritis pain management and for keeping joints flexible. It’s also effective in reducing blood pressure.

According to Joel M Stager, director of the Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming at Indiana University, “Older swimmers maintain their muscle mass better than those who don’t swim, have much lower cardiovascular risk factors than non-swimmers… and score higher on all the various facets of ‘wellness.’”

One of the most important benefits of swimming is the fact that swimmers have much better balance than their non-swimming contemporaries. “This is a critical issue with aging. Bad balance leads to falls, falls lead to decreased activity, and that leads to poor quality of life and a loss of independence. So, swim.”

Sportscenter - Indoor Pool
Sportscenter Athletic Club - Indoor Pool

Swimming also has turned out to be a surprisingly social activity. Many communities have swimming groups to join and activities to engage in. Swimming is also wonderfully intergenerational. You may regularly swim with people from their 20s to their 90s.

(A tip for women: If you’re worried about the effect of chlorine on your locks, wet your hair, lather in some conditioner and cover it with your bathing cap while you swim.)

If you’re tempted to try swimming, google “public pools near me” and pick one that fits your budget. Or maybe you’re lucky enough to have a lake or ocean nearby. Just remember to start slowly.

It’s a wonderful world out there, swimming back and forth in the calming waters. Joel Stager describes it as “almost meditative in nature.” Instead of running on a treadmill, brace your feet against the side of a pool and glide off into the bright blue buoyant world, swimming back and forth at whatever relaxing or invigorating pace I feel like taking that day.

Try it.

Adapted from an original article by Stacy Horn, a New York City based author, journalist and tech pioneer. She is the founder of one of the first online communities, EchoNYC.