Just keep swimming: a sport for all ages

By: Mary Beth Almond | Metro | Published March 19, 2024

 Huron-Clinton Metroparks is working with multiple partners throughout the year to offer free swim lessons at locations  throughout southeast Michigan.

Huron-Clinton Metroparks is working with multiple partners throughout the year to offer free swim lessons at locations throughout southeast Michigan.

Photo provided by the Huron-Clinton Metroparks


METRO DETROIT — Jumping into a pool or lake for a swim isn’t only fun, it offers many health benefits and is great for people of all ages.

With so many opportunities for water recreation in Michigan, the most important step is learning how to swim.

“Swim and water safety are really important topics because we all live in Michigan, so we all live really close to water recreation opportunities — whether that be pools or lakes or rivers. There’s lots of opportunities for residents to get in the water and recreate, but for a lot of people, if they don’t know how to swim, that can be a dangerous situation,” said Danielle Mauter, the chief of marketing and communications for the Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

Although formal swim lessons may reduce the likelihood of drowning by 88%, studies show one of the biggest barriers to more people in the region learning to swim is the fees.

The Huron-Clinton Metroparks is working with partners to save lives by increasing access to free swim lessons and lifesaving water skills in underserved communities through the expansion of its Everyone in the Pool swim initiative. Through this five-year plan, the metroparks have committed to providing 6,000 free swim lessons each year for adults and children with support from existing and future partners and expand opportunities for lifeguard certification and staffing infrastructure. A fundraising goal of $1.5 million has been set to make this expansion possible.

Over the past three years, the metroparks have partnered with public and nonprofit organizations in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Livingston counties to collaborate on free water safety and swim lessons for more than 4,600 students at various recreation centers and facilities. Most lessons start in early June, and registration is already open for some, with additional registration opportunities continuing to open over the next few weeks on the metroparks website, www.metroparks.com.

After learning how to swim, it’s important to keep practicing your skills in the water as you grow.

Michigan is known for its Great Lakes, but our state is also home to over 11,000 small inland lakes — and a host of private and public pools.

The Troy Community Center provides many opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy the water year round — with both indoor and seasonal outdoor pools — including parent and tot classes, kiddie swim, swim lessons, open swim for all ages, water slides, lap swimming, water aerobics, a therapy pool and more.

From boosted heart health to muscle toning, experts say swimming and other water workouts offer many health benefits for children and adults.

“Research shows that swimming is good for your lungs,” said Troy Community Center Recreation Supervisor Morgan Thrasher. “You can swim, you can walk, you can move — there’s a bunch of different things that the water provides that you wouldn’t necessarily get on land.”

Swimming requires you to control your breathing, so it can strengthen your respiratory muscles, improve lung capacity and help build breath endurance. In fact, it’s often recommended that people with asthma pursue swimming to build their lung strength.

Swimming can also alleviate stress, boost your  mood, improve flexibility, and even improve coordination, balance and posture.

The low-impact exercise offers resistance, providing muscle strengthening and toning to keep you strong and fit as you age.

The OPC Social and Activity Center in Rochester allows its members, ages 50 and older, to use a therapy pool for water exercise classes, relaxing and massaging achy muscles and joints, and a lap pool for water exercise and lap swimming.

Mandy Mullins, the fitness and aquatics manager at the OPC Social and Activity Center, said a wide range of seniors use the aquatic facility, including the center’s oldest active swimmer, age 92.

“Some are just coming out of a therapy or a surgery and they are using the therapy pool to continue their rehab, all the way up to our folks who are still practicing for swim competitions,” she said.

Competitive senior swimmers — including one who is 79 year old — use the OPC’s lap pool to train for Michigan Senior Olympics and U.S. Masters swim meets.

“Some have been swimming all their lives and have continued on with all their competitions, and some of them are just getting into it now as seniors — they found swimming and found a group of people who were athletes in some capacity before, and this has been a way for them to compete that’s not as hard on their bodies,” said Mullins.

“For the competitive swimmers, it’s kind of like having a club,” added Delaney Zaloga, a fitness and aquatics supervisor. “They all like swimming, and they all like pushing each other at their swim practice and getting better and better at all the meets.”

But not everybody has to swim to get the benefits of the water, Mullins explained.

“There are some doctors that will recommend the therapy and warm water pool type of class to just get started, especially if there are any balance issues involved. It’s a lot harder to fall over in the pool, so it’s a really great starting point,” she said. “We also have Aqua Zumba or other types of cardio classes that are in the pool where they aren’t necessarily swimming, but they are using that water resistance and the buoyancy and really getting their heart rate going in there without really having to do traditional swimming.”