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Dubai: Now that we have proof that the coronavirus doesn't live in swimming pools, it is a great way to get out of your quarantine laze and do some exercise that's both fun and incredibly healthy. Swimming is not only great for your body, it helps with your breathing and your mental health. 

I was four years old when I jumped into an Olympic-sized swimming pool for the first time. I recalled seeing people swim on television, so I imitated their movements and started swimming the front crawl to the other end of the pool.

My swim coach, a very tanned and strict bald man, had told my mother to enrol me into a swim team. After that, I swam six times a week as part of a competitive squad until I turned 21.

Yousra Swiming
This was me at 17 years old in a swim competition right here in Dubai.

As someone who hails from the Mediterranean beach-side city of Alexandria, swimming is an essential part of growing up Egyptian. Almost every young child is unceremoniously thrown into the shallow end and taught how to swim.

The water-centric upbringing was because of my parents’ love for the ocean. My mother, who always strived for perfectionism, gave us the opportunity to try out every single sport until my brothers and I found our calling in swimming.

The best thing I ever did as a young girl was to spend my free time in the pool. While my friends would go home after school and sit in front of the television, my parents ensured that we were always tired from all of our sports activities. Good strategy for them because we always went to bed on time. 

The benefits of swimming are substantial

“Swimming is a non-impact sport, that doesn’t affect the joints, so it’s the perfect activity to do at any age,” says Hugo Fernandez, a personal trainer and swimming instructor based in Dubai. “It promotes relaxation of the muscle by releasing the pressure from it. It also helps to improve the posture, as well as aerobic capacity. Whenever I wanted to recover from any injuries in the past, I would swim.”

Fernandez has been training since he was three years old and was taught by his father who still works as a swim coach 24 years later. Like me, Fernandez spent his early youth taking part in competitions and training twice a day. As he got older, he himself became a coach. 

“Swimming is very beneficial for our body because it’s one of the most complete sports. This means that we use all of our muscles when we exercise in water, something you don’t get when you work out on land. Swimming is also some of the best resistance training. It’s a great injury prevention sport, since it doesn’t create any impact on our joints.”

Swimming to prevent illnesses

Professor Erik Hohmann, the consultant orthopaedic surgeon and sports physician in Dubai, says one of the best things about swimming is that it is for everyone. “The fact that there is zero impact means that anyone can do it,” he tells Gulf News. “Many weight-bearing activities place substantial force on the knees, hips and ankles. Water allows the joints to be exercised without adding the effects of body weight.” And it’s a sport that can and should be continued for a lifetime.

Dr Abdullah Sedighi, a cardiologist based between Dubai and New York, explains that swimming is one of the best aerobic exercises for heart health. It keeps the blood vessels elastic and prevents them from getting stiff. This in turn lowers the blood pressure especially in people over 50 years old. Swimming also tunes up several heart and blood vessel reflexes making them work in harmony. “Even those who have undergone treatments for heart disease should be swimming,” he says. “There should be no excuse.”

Dr Andrew Jamieson MB, a consultant endocrinologist in Dubai, believes that people who suffer from diabetes could improve their illness by spending more time in the pool. “Swimming improves insulin resistance and helps contribute to reducing the potential for diabetes related complications such as blindness and heart disease,” he says.

He tells the story of the American Olympic gold medallist Gary Hall Jr, who dominated the 1996 Olympics despite being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes three years earlier. He used swimming to his advantage and maintained a presence at the highest level of international competition for a decade. “Remember insulin treatment does not prevent anyone from taking exercise, and excelling in their sport.”

The effects of sports and swimming on your mind

Dr Monica de Sousa Mendes, a clinical psychologist, talks about the importance that sports, in general, has on mental fitness. “Any kind of physical activity can have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing, but swimming is particularly effective,” she says. Swimming for just half an hour three times a week can lower stress levels, raise the mood, lower incidences of depression and anxiety and improve sleep patterns. Rhythmic and aerobic forms of exercise like swimming improve psychological wellbeing. For older adults already living with conditions such as dementia, swimming can improve memory and our ability to concentrate and focus.

Things you could use when you swim 

1. Goggles

Every swimmer needs goggles in order to see and prevent any eye infections or dryness from the chlorine. These can be bought at almost any sport shop.

2. Swim fins

If you want to add some speed to your lap, you could wear swim fins, which are shorter than the scuba diving flippers, but also long enough to give you that extra push in the pool.

3. Nose clips

They may look old fashioned, but they are effective for people who have problems keeping water out of their noses. 

4. SportCount ring lap counter for swimmers

If you’re more of a pro swimmer, never lose track of your laps again. Wear this ring, which keeps track of your time and how many laps you’ve done.