Three 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.