I’m nervous about getting back in the pool

Jane mugshot for JQAThree years ago I was rushed to hos­pital with hypo­ther­mia after swim­ming in a very cold pool. I’d like to give swim­ming another try (I used to go three times a week), but am wor­ried about how to “start the ball rolling”. I am 74 and reas­on­ably fit. Can you advise me?

After such a bad exper­i­ence, it’s great that you are pre­pared to give swim­ming another try. If you fol­low all these pre­cau­tions you should be hap­pily back in the water before too long. Start by check­ing with your GP. For you, this should be a form­al­ity, but for some people with ser­i­ous heart con­di­tions, swim­ming is not the best exer­cise.

Get into some good habits for keep­ing your energy levels up and your body warm. Eat some­thing nutri­tious with car­bo­hydrate in it about an hour before you swim (break­fast cer­eals, por­ridge, beans on toast, baked potato and tuna are all good examples). Don’t even think about going in the water if you are feel­ing chilled or unwell. Each time you go to the pool, ask the recep­tion­ist what the water tem­per­at­ure is on that day: it should be 28 to 29 degrees Celsius. If it isn’t, ask why not and post­pone your swim to another day.

After your swim, take a warm shower and get dressed quickly, with enough warm lay­ers – and if you’re going out into the cold a decent hat and coat. Eat again within an hour of your swim.

The first time you go back, you may feel more con­fid­ent if you can get a friend to come, too. If not, and you feel nervous, have a quiet word with one of the life­guards at the side of the pool: just explain that it’s a long time since you swam, and would they keep an eye on you dis­creetly? How long you stay in depends on how you are feel­ing. If you start to feel at all pan­icky, anxious or cold, make your way to the shal­low end and get out. Otherwise, keep on the move and aim for a gentle swim of maybe 10 to 15 minutes. As you get more con­fid­ent you can extend your swim by a couple more lengths (or minutes) each week.

As we age, our bod­ies get less good at warn­ing us when we are over­heat­ing or over-​cooling. Many older people don’t even shiver in the way younger people do, so you may not real­ise it until you are very cold indeed. In cold water, your body tem­per­at­ure drops very quickly, so don’t take a chance if the pool is under-​heated.

As you were a reg­u­lar and keen swim­mer, you might like to think about join­ing a “mas­ters club”. Organised by the Amateur Swimming Association, there are clubs through­out the coun­try where swim­mers (of sim­ilar ages) get together at the local pool for fun, a healthy workout and even for com­pet­i­tions. Find out more here, includ­ing a mas­ters’ club near you.

Find out how Roger Allsopp trained to become the old­est cross-​Channel swimme.

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