Back Into the swim

On a clear spring morning, it’s pleasantly serene. The pool’s surface is flat and smooth like a sheet of glass. Heat rises gently, creating a mist over the water. I swim on my back looking at the lush leaves on the trees, and the sapphire sky beyond.

There is little to no traffic on the road beyond the high hedges that surround me — all I can hear is the chirrup of the chickadees and the occasional cry from the gulls nesting on a nearby roof. The water is warm and tepid, and I move smoothly through it, watching the gentle ripples swell out in front of me.  

Although the sun is still low in the sky, its rays are beginning to peek over the rooftops of the townhomes. My only company in this precious moment are the juncos, northern flickers, hummingbirds, and squirrels.  

Why Swimming Works for Me

This summer, I have returned to the routine of starting my day with an early morning swim. For me, swimming is the best exercise for arthritis. The buoyant water takes pressure off my joints and allows me to move easily and gracefully, and yet the water has a gentle resistance that helps me keep my muscles toned and supports my cardiovascular system.  

The morning swim awakens and energizes me for the day. There’s something about the act of moving through water that clears the fog out of my brain. I get my best ideas and find solutions to problems in this space. It’s my solace — a meditative dance in the water.  

I didn’t always love swimming. Like many young kids, I feared the water at first. It wasn’t until I was almost 10 years old that I truly fell in love with it. I would go to the park and swim in our community pool. I swam on and off through my teenage years, until dance took over my life. Still, I always found my way back to the water whenever I could.  

When I was diagnosed with RA and could no longer dance, I explored other exercise options like yoga, and I rediscovered swimming as an excellent way to stay fit and manage my RA symptoms. 

I favour swimming in the early morning. It’s quiet and peaceful, and I’m usually the only one there. The sun is still low in the sky, so I don’t have to worry about its powerful rays on my fair skin.  

When I swim later in the day, I make sure I’m well hydrated and wear waterproof sunscreen. I also limit my time, as the sun’s reflection in the water amplifies the power of its rays. The pool is heated, so even a rainy day doesn’t rule out a morning swim. It’s only open throughout the summer months, so I try to swim as often as I can before the fall. 

Swimming works your whole body, and, like any other exercise, it raises our endorphins, boosts our mood, and helps improve sleep. I am fortunate to have access to a pool just steps from where I live, but I have swum in oceans and lakes, here in British Columbia and in other parts of the world. British Columbia is a water province. We have the ocean and many lakes in the mountains and the desert landscape of our interior, as well as a fair sprinkling of natural hot springs.  

Our community pools, open to the public, offer lessons and exercise classes. I prefer swimming outdoors underneath a blue sky, with the sounds of birds and the breeze rustling through the trees — nature’s symphony.  

For those who can’t swim, many community pools offer exercise classes in the water. This is often a group activity that takes place in the shallow end with instructors to guide you through the moves. This kind of group activity is social and can help keep you motivated. We can replicate land exercises in the water, alleviating the weight and pressure off our joints. Plus, group classes offer the support you need to stay motivated.  

The Therapeutic Call of Water

For me, being in the pool reminds me of being on vacation. I can let my mind drift, imaging I’m somewhere tropical for a little while. I can be nowhere and everywhere at the same time. No other exercise does this for me.  

The water calls to me. Maybe it’s living here on the west coast of Canada surrounded by oceans and lakes that draws me to it.  

Approximately 60 percent of our body is water. Not only is water therapeutic, but it also captures our imagination. It feeds the forests, maintaining their lush and green, and douses wildfires during hot dry spells. The ocean waves are soothing to listen to and there’s something comforting about floating in water, like we did in our mother’s womb.  

No matter what is going on in my life, when I am swimming the noise of the world evaporates. It’s a good time to dive in and get back into the swim of things — that’s what I did this summer.  

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