Swimming is a great way to stay healthy, particularly when you take steps to avoid the most common dangers. By keeping in mind safety, germ exposure, hydration, and sun protection, it is possible to engage in healthy swimming, have fun, and reap exercise benefits.
Protection from Germs
While chemicals such as chlorine and other disinfectants are used to reduce germs in private and public swimming pools, they do not work instantly. They also must be maintained at a certain level otherwise their efficacy is reduced. If you own a swimming pool, it is important to test the chemical levels in your pool regularly to ensure that they remain at the proper free chlorine level (1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) to maximize germ-killing power according to the CDC. Hot tubs have a different proper disinfectant level (chlorine [2–4 parts per million or ppm] or bromine [4–6 ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8).
One of the best ways to promote healthy swimming is to prevent germs from entering the pool in the first place. Anyone with an illness should avoid using the pool, and everyone should shower before going for a swim. Once you are in the pool, avoid swallowing the water. Children should be encouraged to leave the pool regularly for bathroom breaks, and babies or young children should never have their diapers changed poolside.
Oceans, lakes, and other natural bodies of water also contain pollutants and bacteria that can lead to infections of the eyes, skin, ears, and respiratory tract. Heed water safety warnings, which may be more common after rainfall.
Beyond exposure to germs, pools and natural swimming areas can pose a threat to swimmers due the risk of drowning, injury, or accident. One of the best ways to promote healthy swimming is to stay within view of a lifeguard whenever possible and to ensure that someone near the swimming area is trained in life-saving skills such as CPR. Supervision of children, seniors, and others who may require special assistance is essential, but all swimmers should be watched. Any adult assigned to watch swimmers should eliminate distractions that may prevent accidents from being seen.
If you own a swimming pool, make sure that it is up to code and meets all safety requirements not only for the pool itself but also for surrounding areas and components such as the fence, deck, and entrances and exits.
When you engage in recreational and sports activities, perspiration is often the cue that you need to drink more water. Unlike playing tennis or taking a hike, however, the act of swimming can obscure the fact that you are sweating. While you may not notice, your body temperature gets higher, and you sweat while swimming so that you don’t overheat. Swimmers often report that they don’t feel as thirsty, but it is important to drink water regularly. Try to take a water break every 15 minutes if you can, and remind children to take breaks as well.
Hydration helps to maintain ideal performance, which is important whether you are engaged in recreational or competitive swimming. The danger of drowning or having an accident increases when your body can’t perform well. Healthy swimming involves taking every step to make sure you are functioning at your best.
Whether you are spending time in a backyard swimming pool or at the beach, you are exposed to a high level of UV exposure that can lead to skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer. The reflective nature of water is partly responsible for this exposure, which makes sunscreen application even more important. Even if you are taking a break and simply sitting near a swimming pool, you are exposed to UV rays that bounce off the water surface.
A broad-spectrum, waterproof sunscreen that offers protection from UVA and UVB rays is essential for healthy swimming. Other ways to reduce your exposure include avoiding swimming or increasing your level of protection during the hours when the sun is strongest, typically 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., wearing sun protective clothing, and taking regular breaks in the shade.
By following these steps, you can have a healthy swimming experience and avoid the most common dangers. Remember to stay hydrated, reduce germ exposure, protect yourself from the sun, and be mindful of the safety of yourself and other swimmers.