Happy Aging is a unique series focused on how to help you age well. These stories have been created in cooperation with AARP and Word In Black.
Ken Roland was 2 years old when his family of skilled swimmers threw him into the Sunland Park pool. By his teenage years, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida native was confidently swimming in lakes, canals, and oceans. For him, the water was a place to both frolic and defy cultural impressions. But it wasn’t until a near-fatal automobile accident in his 20s that Roland developed a deeper view of water.
“Once I got out of nine months of being in the hospital, I had to walk down the street to the local swimming pool,” Roland remembers. “That helped me with my recovery. I am a living testament of the healing properties of the water and how it got me back strong.”
Today, the soon-to-be 66-year-old is a lifeguard lieutenant and swim coach. He is also the former chairperson of Diversity in Aquatics, an organization that supports water safety and healthy aquatics.
Swimming is one of several low-impact sports, such as walking, cycling, and tai chi. It relieves depression and anxiety. It also improves core muscles, balance, and overall coordination, according to researchers, Roland believes swimming has a simple holistic power.
“Once you get under the water, you’re able to hold your breath and you can even go into a meditative state under the water,” he says, “Especially if you have an underwater breathing apparatus where you can breathe.” Even if you don’t swim, entering the water can be good for people with all kinds of conditions, including asthma, he adds.
“I always start all my lessons with breathing in the first part and I end also with breathing.”
Swimming may slow the physical effects of aging, according to some research. For years, Thaddeus Gamory has swam in order to balance his participation in high-impact sports, such as basketball and running.
“You’re activating muscles to perform in a certain way that you don’t normally have on land,” he says. “The joints become more lubricated. Blood pressure drops. Blood volume goes up. Oxygen intake goes up and all these things contribute to healing.”
Gamory, 63, is the Director of Community Engagement, Projects and Programs for Diversity in Aquatics. He is also a faculty member for the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. Beyond the physical benefits of swimming, he has embraced the activity as a way to recover from a stressful career in law enforcement.
“I have sought out the water because of some emotional social upsets – you know, death in the family,” he says. “You actually are so present that it enhances a sense of well being, a deeper connection to the moment, and in the moment, you feel a deep power. It puts at bay the past where there was some trauma and upset and fear. It quiets the thinking of the future because you’re so present looking at your own body performing a new skill that you’re curious about. You feel courageous. You’re willing to take it on. Competence, confidence goes up.”
If you’re starting to swim, then here are some rules for staying confident and safe:
Know your limits.
Our bodies change over time. Be cautious as you’re entering the water. Seek support from a coach or lifeguard to evaluate your abilities.
Know the conditions.
If you’re in a pool, know how deep the water is. Is there professional supervision or an individual who is around to assist in the event of an emergency? If you’re swimming outdoors, what kind of water are you planning to swim in? Are there rocks and wildlife that could be harmful? Bring a lifejacket.
Don’t swim alone.
Get out of direct sunlight. For more information about swimming and other low-impact sports, read here.