Getting in the water can sometimes be ‘far more powerful’ compared to other healthcare interventions, as seen through the new ‘Swimming as Medicine’ series launched by Swim England.
The national governing body has teamed up with the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) to encourage healthcare professionals to consider recommending swimming and aquatic activity to their patients.
"Water has a unique ability to support those who may be hesitant to engage in other forms of physical activity."
The series outlines how transformative being active in water can be for individuals, and the initial video features Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi, a GP in Leamington Spa and RCGP Lifestyle and Physical Activity Clinical Champion.
He shares his thoughts and offers suggestions to other healthcare professionals on having physical activity conversations around swimming with their patients.
The video also tells the story of Darren Whitley, who spent an extended period in intensive care due to Covid-19 in 2021.
Darren was significantly overweight and struggled with a range of health problems after discharge from the hospital. He turned up at his local GP practice-led running group one day, intent on turning his health problems around and following a discussion with Hussain, was guided towards swimming.
Hussain was able to witness Darren’s progress first-hand by visiting him during a session at his local pool and described it as a ‘rewarding experience’.
He said: “Seeing the impact patient conversations can have gives you the motivation to continue striving to encourage and support lifestyle change.
“At the Royal College of GPs, we appreciate just how important physical activity is for a healthy and happy life. Swimming has several unique qualities which means it is a fantastic option.
“My recommendation for any healthcare professional interested in signposting more patients is to get into the water themselves. Experience the benefits first-hand so you can communicate this credibly.”
The launch of ‘Swimming as Medicine’ also coincides with Social Prescribing Day, to further highlight how a ‘social prescription to swim’ can be as, and sometimes even more powerful, than many of the mainstream medical or pharmaceutical interventions used to manage disease and improve health and well-being.
Social prescribing is a way of actively connecting people to activities, groups and services that can improve their health and well-being.
Regular swimming has been proven to help reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. It is also beneficial for those with arthritis, obesity, and joint pain, as the buoyancy of the water, reduces the impact on joints.
However, despite the clear benefits of swimming to individuals and communities, it is an option that can be overlooked within healthcare circles.
Andrew Power, Swim England water wellbeing specialist, said: “Our Value of Swimming report highlighted that more than 14 million people in England swim at some point each year, making it one of the nation’s most popular forms of activity.
“Yet in conversations with patients, some healthcare professionals might find it easier to suggest walking and other activities with fewer perceived benefits to encourage the least active to be active.
“In some senses, that could be the right course of action to follow and might work for some. However, we know from our research that one in three people with a long-term health condition or impairment would prefer to swim if given the choice.
“We also know that both people and professionals feel that water has a unique ability to support those who may be hesitant to engage in other forms of physical activity, either due to lack of fitness, chronic pain, lack of balance, poor mobility or other barriers.
“This is why we wanted to further emphasise the individual benefits through the launch of this series.”
All of the ‘Swimming as Medicine’ videos will direct people to Swim England’s Poolfinder tool, which contains information on thousands of pools across the country.
Healthcare professionals or their patients can use Poolfinder to search for local pools that have the right support in place to meet their needs, for example; dementia-friendly swimming or aquatic physiotherapy support in warm water hydrotherapy pools.
The national governing body is keen to see the videos being used in healthcare settings and online resources. Healthcare organisations can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org to request downloads and guidance around use.
There is also a wealth of information on the benefits of swimming with health conditions, including fact sheets on swimming with specific health conditions.