AS Aileen MacCallum knows, you’re never too old to take the plunge.
The 68-year-old, a semi-retired nurse who lives in Morningside, is among those to have signed up to a special swimming programme in Edinburgh for older people – and has never looked back.
As part of their Ageing Well project, Edinburgh Leisure runs Buddy Swimming, where trained volunteers help participants build their confidence and movement.
It is one of a range of initiatives aimed at getting more people using Edinburgh Leisure pools – there’s 12 of them at ten different sites around the city.
But it’s not just the older generation who are being targeted, with the benefits of swimming clear for all ages.
Swimming for just 30 minutes can burn between 200 to 350 calories and helps reduce your cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Eating protein directly after swimming is also thought to boost your immune system.
Getting in the pool also provides a great cardiovascular workout, and since water is 12 times as dense as air, the resistance against each stroke is greater. This, coupled with the effect of the weightlessness, means swimming has the ability to reach and tone muscles that other forms of activity just can’t get to. And the broad range of motions used by different strokes has also been proven to improve your flexibility.
Aileen, right, who has been attending Ageing Well Buddy Swimming at Leith Victoria Swim Centre for the past three years, is a convert.
Those who take part in the Buddy Scheme are not obliged or pressured to learn to swim, but most do pick up a few strokes, which helps them move on to more advanced lessons if they wish to.
Aileen said: “I remember going to the baths at school, but I just didn’t take to swimming. I tried again when I was in my 40s, and got a bit more relaxed, but then I got out of the habit and after a while I felt like I had forgotten most of what I learned.
“I saw the Buddy Swimming advertised and decided to give it a go.
“It can be really difficult going to new places on your own, but this way there’s someone to go with. They come out and meet you in the café, and have a chat, and show you things like where the changing rooms and lockers are. Then, once you’re ready, they will either help you get into the pool, or just stay nearby while you get in yourself. They help you adjust to the water and hold your arms or hands as you move about if you want them to. There are also lots of floats and buoyancy aids to use.
“I feel far more confident about being in the pool now, and I’ve met a lot of new people as a result of coming along to the classes. It’s also helped me to keep active and my physical mobility has improved.”
All Edinburgh’s pools offer classes to suit all ages and levels, including those who may find the idea of learning late in life more than a little intimidating.
Edinburgh Leisure swimming and aquatics manager Gillian Jones said: “We have opportunities for everyone, be they experienced swimmers, or those who wish to learn or improve on their technique, either for health reasons, or just for fun.
“Our pools are open seven days a week and we offer lessons in small groups, or one-to-one sessions for those who perhaps feel a little less confident.
“People who choose to swim with us can have lots of different experiences depending on which of our facilities they choose to visit too. Glenogle Baths is a great example of an old Victorian Baths and can inspire many sentimental feelings among users, while others prefer more modern pools with access to gyms and saunas.”
She added: “When older people inquire about learning to swim we often suggest they sign up for one of our Aquafit classes. They are conducted in the shallow end of the pool, so it gives participants a chance to get used to the water and get some exercise which won’t put too much strain on them.
“However, one of the best things about swimming is the fact that the water takes most of your weight, which is one of the reasons why it’s perfect for older people, people who suffer conditions causing joint pain and pregnant women.
“However, since it’s estimated that swimming puts 90 per cent less stress on joints than any other form of exercise, it’s one that even people who do lots of other activities should consider, as it can reduce your risk of osteoporosis.”
Pools in Edinburgh open as early as 5.30am, with some staying open until 9.30pm.
For more information, visit www.edinburghleisure.co.uk/activities/swimming-diving