Swimming offers bright lights and positive energy
January 1, 2023 | View PDF
Swimming is the fourth most popular sports activity in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, it is much more popular in Alaska than many other states for a host of reasons. In the winter, swimming can be more than just exercise. Water fitness groups tend to be extensive, welcoming families consisting of seniors, young adults and everyone in between.
Amanda Hanley is the aquatics director for the YMCA in Anchorage and said swimming is one of the best ways to exercise for older adults, especially in Alaska because of the added bonus of improving swim skills to stay safe in such a water-filled state. Exercising in a swimming pool is much easier on the joints and muscles. It increases mobility and strength, and provides a highly effective total-body workout that is sustainable for people of all ages.
"For older adults with disabilities, physical therapy and small movements in a pool are recommended by virtually every physician and are also great ways to recover from injury or surgery," Hanley said.
She noted that swimming plays a significant role in the lives of older adults in the Anchorage community. The water fitness classes have high attendance and are great opportunities for socialization with other members.
"Our water aerobics groups also regularly host potlucks, birthday parties, and other celebrations for members of the community, making the YMCA's aquatic department feel like so much more than just a pool," Hanley said.
Studies show that just two and a half hours per week of swimming can decrease the risk of chronic illnesses. Further, swimming has been shown to improve health for older adults with diabetes and heart disease. Swimmers have about half the risk of death compared with inactive people, according to the CDC.
"Don't be afraid to try new movements in the water or adapt any class to your personal skill level. The senior swimming community in Anchorage is incredibly welcoming to all newcomers and loves meeting new members. Personally, I enjoy water workouts in the dark winter months because you usually can't tell it is dark outside at all while you're in a pool. It's nothing but bright lights and positive energy," Hanley said.
Hydrotherapy for mental health
Swimming and water aerobics are great exercise options for older adults because these water activities provide similar cardiovascular and muscle benefits as land exercises, but put less stress on the body.
"The buoyancy of the water is gentle on joints while enabling adults to move through a wider range of motion, improving flexibility and helping relieve tension and joint pain," said Stacey Reardon, facility director at the Yukon Kuskokwim Fitness Center in Bethel.
Swimming and water exercise provide significant benefits to both physical and mental health for older adults. Swimming and water exercise are full body workouts that improve heart health, strengthen muscles, and increase flexibility all while boosting endorphins related to improved mental and emotional health.
"Swimming regularly can reduce stress and tension leaving you feeling refreshed. The bilateral use of the body in swimming gives your brain a nice mental workout helping to maintain cognitive skills," said Reardon.
Swimming is one of the most effective ways to burn calories and a gentle swim can burn more than 200 calories in just half an hour, more than double that of walking. Several studies have demonstrated that water-based exercise can help people with arthritis improve the use of their arthritic joints without worsening symptoms. Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis were found to significantly benefit from participating in hydrotherapy (exercising in warm water) than with other activities. Water-based exercise can also improve the use of affected joints and decrease pain from osteoarthritis, according to the CDC.
Swimming can improve mood in both men and women. For individuals with fibromyalgia, swimming can decrease anxiety, and exercise therapy in warm water can decrease depression and improve mood.
"In addition to the physical benefits, swimming and water exercises are great ways to connect with community members and reduce feelings of isolation. Coming to the pool and interacting with facility staff on the way in, chatting with others in the locker rooms, and before and after classes, can be a great mood-lifter," said Reardon.
During the winter months in Alaska, it can be hard to get motivated. So, Reardon advocates setting goals and making them enjoyable and achievable. "Make a plan and stick to it. It is easy to let the cold and dark discourage you from hitting the pool, but if you make swimming a habit, your body will thank you for it and you will be a happier, healthier you," said Reardon.
If you are having trouble getting motivated, Reardon recommends going as a group or having a workout buddy. Even if you don't all do the same workout, getting there together or meeting at the pool could be just the motivation you need.
"As we all know, aquatic programs provide a low impact exercise to improve muscle imbalances, flexibility and a sense of well-being," said Michele Cateson, assistant director of Recreational Programs at Alaska Pacific University (APU). "Now that we have entered into a world with less mask requirements and less fears of connecting with others, our older adults are returning to the pool, engaging in aquatic activities with smiling faces and excitement to be part of the community," Cateson said.
As we age, all the hard and fast activities we put our younger selves through may start to manifest as stiffness, pain and limited mobility. Swimming offers a chance to feel younger again, engage with people of all ages and mindsets. "I have seen men and women move slowly or awkwardly on land, but once in the water they cruise up and down the lane as if they had no limitations," Cateson said.
She recommends finding a swimming routine that works for you and then consider joining an adult swim team. There are teams that practice in the APU pool six days a week. The Swimming with Alaska Masters (S.W.A.M.) is a unique swim team for ages 18 and older that welcomes all abilities, goals and lifestyles. "Belonging to a team and having a coach on deck offers swimmers corrective feedback on stroke refinement, which can help reduce injury from swimming incorrectly, and it keeps the brain active by learning new techniques or strokes," said Cateson.
The emphasis in these swim classes is not to make you a master at swimming, just a willing participant to reach your personal goals. "I have often referred to the aqua aerobics class as a sewing circle for the older community. Friendships are often made, and I get to see the compassionate side of humanity return," said Cateson.
Swimming pools around the state
Check these facilities near you for their activities such as lap swim, open swim, swim lessons, water aerobics and more. Offerings and schedules can change due to Covid, staffing and other issues, so be sure to confirm. Anchorage municipal pools, especially, have cut back on their hours.
Southside YMCA at Dimond, Dimond Center Mall, 344-7788.
Anchorage Community YMCA, 5353 Lake Otis Pkwy., 563-3211.
University of Alaska Anchorage Public Pool, 3211 Providence Dr., 786-1231.
H2Oasis Indoor Waterpark, 1520 O'Malley Rd., 522-4420.
Moseley Sports Center at Alaska Pacific University, 4400 University Dr., 564-8314.
Alaska Club East (membership required), 5201 E. Tudor, 337-9550.
Alaska Club South (membership required), 10931 O'Malley Centre, 344-6567.
Buckner Physical Fitness Center Bldg., 690 D St., Fort Richardson, 384-1308.
High school pools: Contact city Dept. of Recreation, 907-343-4402, for pool schedules, activities.
Alaska Club Fairbanks South (membership required), 747 Old Richardson Hwy., 452-6801.
Mary Siah Recreation Center, 805 14th Ave., 459-1081.
Hamme Swimming Pool, 931 Airport Way, 459-1086.
Patty Pool in Patty Center at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Tanana Loop. 474-7744.
Augustus Brown Pool, 1619 Glacier Ave., 586-5325.
Dimond Park Aqua Center, 3045 Dimond Park Loop, 586-2782.
Around the state
Barrow Barrow High School Pool, 1684 Okpik St., 852-8950.
Bethel Yukon-Kuskokwim Regional Aquatic Health and Safety Center, 267 Akiachak Dr., 543-0390.
Eagle River Alaska Club Eagle River (membership required), 12001 Business Blvd., 694-6677.
Cordova Bob Korn Memorial Pool, 609 Railroad Ave., 424-7200.
Craig Craig Aquatic Center, 1400 Watertower Rd., 826-2794.
Haines Haines Pool, 274 Haines Hwy., 766-2666.
Homer Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center, Homer High School, 600 E. Fairview Ave., 235-4600.
Kenai Kenai Central High School, 9583 Kenai Spur Hwy., 283-7476.
Ketchikan Gateway Aquatic Center, 601 Schoenbar Rd., 288-6650.
Kodiak Kodiak Community Pool, 800 Upper Mill Bay Rd., 481-2519.
Naknek Kvimarvik Pool, School Road, 246-7665.
Nikiski Nikiski Pool, 55525 Poolside Ave., 776-8800.
Ninilchik Ninilchik School Pool, 15735 Sterling Hwy., 714-0351.
Nome Nome Beltz Jr./Sr. High School, 2920B Nome-Teller Hwy., 443-5717.
North Pole Wescott Pool, 300 E. 8th Ave., 488-9402.
Palmer Palmer Pool, 1170 W. Bogard, 861-7676.
Petersburg Community Center, 500 N. 3rd St., 722-3392.
Sand Point Sand Point School, 269 Red Cove Rd. 907-383-2696. Note: Pool is closed for maintenance but should reopen around February.
Seward Seward Jr./Sr. High School Pool, 2100 Swetmann Ave., 224-3900.
Sitka Blatchley Pool, 601 Halibut Point, 747-5677.
Soldotna Soldotna High School Swimming Pool, 425 W Marydale Ave., 262-7419.
Unalaska Unalaska Aquatics Center, 55 E. Broadway, 581-1649.
Valdez Valdez Swimming Pool, 319 Robe River Dr., 835-5429.
Wasilla Wasilla Pool, 701 E. Bogard Rd., 861-7680.
Wrangell Wrangell Pool, 321 Church St., 874-2444.