Guest Column - September 2012
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Step Into Swim: Getting Everyone Into the Pool

By The National Swimming Pool Foundation

The Problem

  • Physical inactivity, obesity and an aging society are driving up healthcare and insurance costs. These epidemics continue to grow at an alarming rate.
  • About 3,800 drowning deaths (almost 700 in pools), 5,700 emergency department-treated injuries (over 3,300 in pools), and hundreds of civil suits occur every year.
  • About half of Americans have a fear of swimming pools.

The Solution?

Physical inactivity and obesity will continue to drive up healthcare costs as baby boomers pass 65 years of age and childhood obesity continues to increase. To stabilize and reverse these crippling trends, government and the private sector will have to invest to increase physical activity. Aquatic activity is ideal for sedentary, obese and older populations. Yet, about half of Americans either fear deep water or cannot swim. Because so many cannot swim, aquatic activities that improve health and longevity are lost to approximately 100 million Americans-and those they influence. This aversion to water also places large populations at risk of drowning.

Fortunately, many extraordinary, financially-sustainable organizations have exceptional programs to attract and teach millions of people to learn to swim. In addition, one of the leading "aspirational activities" for all ages is to swim for exercise. It is tragic that so many people who aspire to be swimmers are not swimmers-yet.

Pool, spa and aquatic businesses, associations, health-focused organizations and government must commit to supporting organizations that teach people to swim. More swimmers will result in a healthier society, fewer drownings and reduced healthcare costs, with an increased number of people engaged in a healthy spectrum of aquatic activities.

Inactive & Aging Society

Inactivity among Americans has resulted in catastrophic increases in obesity. Coupled with an aging society, the health consequences and associated costs are skyrocketing. Water's buoyancy reduces stress on joints, risk of falls and injuries. Water's mass increases cardiac and respiratory exercise, making aquatic activity ideal for historically sedentary and aging populations.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and adults who participate in any amount of activity gain some health benefits. For substantial health benefits, the Guidelines recommend that adults perform at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Children and adolescents should perform 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.

Overall, approximately one in three American men and nearly 40 percent of women report no leisure-time physical activity. However, there are definite race/ethnic differences, ranging from 30 to 33 percent in non-Hispanic whites and Asians to nearly 50 percent among non-Hispanic African Americans, Hispanic or Latino Americans.

In 2011, only about 45 percent of Americans overall met the aerobic guidelines. However, prevalence ranges from about 65 percent in 18-to-24-year-old men to little more than 20 percent in 75-plus-year-old women. U.S. Census data indicates that the number of people over 65 years of age will increase by more than 23 million (from 40.2 to 63.9 million) from 2010 to 2025. The percentage of adults who met the activity guidelines decreased with age. These groups are ideal candidates to remain active, although most forms of activity-other than aquatic activity-are less suitable for these age groups.