Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle, Parenting

Swimming – An all year activity with excellent health benefits

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I have been teaching swimming for 10 years with about half of them being in the UK and the last 5 years here in Cape Town. I am always surprised by South- Africans’ attitudes to swimming in terms of its role as an all year sport and activity.

We are extremely blessed by the amazing weather in our country. A common misconception is that we should only swim when the sun is shining; this is only true for outdoor pools. The effective heating and covering of swimming pools allow this excellent sport to be enjoyed all year round in comfort.

For those of you who remain sceptical, I have put together some of the great advantages of swimming all year. Do remember though, as long as your baby, your children and you are dressed warmly on the way to and from lessons in a heated indoor facility of course, there should be no reason to stop your swimming lessons.

Swimming is a fun way to encourage your child to do physical exercise

With the colder winter months approaching we all have the tendency to become less active. The rainy weather does stop most of us from spending prolonged periods outside, riding our bikes or going for a walk. Going swimming in an indoor, heated environment provides the perfect shelter from the outside elements.

Taking your child to a 30 minute swimming lesson, once or twice per week is no doubt a fun and energetic activity that they love. Swimming is a great form of exercise, because it offers the swimmers a full body workout with very low impact on their joints – “To be swim fit is the best fit!”

Swimming develops the whole child

Not only is swimming a great way to get physically fit, swimming has also been proven to encourage intellectual and emotional development. According to a scientific study at the German Sports College, Cologne (1979) children that swim all year round fared better academically, particularly in problem solving skills. The good news however doesn’t end there.

A four year Early Years swimming Research project (with 45 swim schools in Australia, New Zealand and the USA) found that children younger than 5 who had swimming lessons were more advanced in their cognitive and physical development. The researchers in Melbourne went on to find that the children in this study also had higher IQ’s.

Still not convinced? According to Art Kramer (2009) at the University of Illinois and Pittsburgh, exercise helps a persons’ memory, which in turn leads to greater learning potential. In their study they found that people who were fit had a larger hippocampus than those less fit.

Swimming enhances brain development in babies and people with special needs.

The benefits of swimming for babies and children with special needs are vast. I will cover these in another article, but I thought it would be important to touch on just one of these benefits here.

According to a study conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology by Dr Hermundur Sigmundson (2010) it was concluded that even the youngest swimmers were better at balancing and grasping. Working with children with cerebral palsy, downs syndrome and autism, I have also witnessed a vast improvement in these skills after just a relatively short time in the pool. One of the reasons for this is because being in water exposes babies and children with special needs to tactile stimulation of the nerve pathways. Water has over 600 times the resistance of air, so just moving through water is already stimulating.

Dr Ruth Rice (1979) found in her research that children learn significantly through touch and the texture of different objects – also known as tactile sensory development. It was proven that this stimulation leads to “significant gains in neurological and mental development.”

Swimmers have better social skills

It is hardly surprising, having read the previous studies, that swimming will enhance your social skills. Looking at the same study by the German sport college, Cologne, swimmers displayed more self-discipline and have better self-esteem which made them more comfortable in social situations.

It was also found by Dr Liselott Diem (1980) that children who had taken swimming lessons from 2 months to 4 years old could adapt to new social situations more easily, because they had more confidence in social settings.

Swimming help teach children to take turns, listen, share and cooperate. All necessary skills in social environments.

Swimming improves your immune system

Contrary to the erroneous belief that your child will be more ill in the winter months if they keep on swimming, swimming will in actual fact improve your child’s immune system.

Every time your little one goes under the water it triggers a reflex called the diving response. This is when the body – “starved of oxygen” pumps oxygen rich blood to the vital organs, namely the heart, lungs and brain.  This means the vital organs get stronger which helps us cope better with common illnesses. It was actually proven in a study that swimmers have vital organs 20 years younger than their actual age.

Swimming reduces your child’s risk of drowning

This is the most important reasons for taking your child to swimming lessons, but I sometimes think we get so hung-up on this fact, we miss some of the other great benefits as listed earlier.

Swimming is a life-skill and all children should be able to swim. No questions asked. No baby is born not liking water, so when your little one cries for the first few lessons, there is usually another reason for this. A good swimming teacher will look for a way to make your little one feel comfortable and look forward to coming to lessons. Gone are the days of the “Just throw them in!” attitude, as this can do more harm than good.


Swimming is a fun and potentially lifesaving activity, with a wide range of health and social benefits. Don’t dismiss this sport and activity because of our preconceptions. Swim all year round and experience the benefits for yourself.


Diem, Undeutsch, Lehr, Olbrich, “Early Motor Stimulation and Personal Development: a study of four to six year old German Children.” Extract by Editor. Swimming World 21 (12):14, 1980

German Sports College Cologne, “Baby Swimming: Advance Independence and Development of Intelligence. “World Aquatic Babies and Children Network (1979)

1Kramer A.F., Erickson K.I., Colcumbe S.J., “Excercise, Cognition and the Aging Brain.” Journal of Applied Physiology; 2009; pp. 101, 1243-1251

Rice R., “Neurophysiological Development in Premature Neonate Following Stimulation.” Developmental Psychology, 13; 69-76, 1977.

Sigmundsson H., Hopkins B. “Baby Swimming Exploring the Effects of Early Intervention on Subsequent Motor Abilities.” Child: Care, Health and Development, Science Daily 210, 36 (3): 428 DOL:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2009.00990.x. May 7, 2010

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