Summer is just around the corner. Are you looking for activities and ways to get your child with Down syndrome active and involved? Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise and comes with so many physical, developmental, and emotional benefits. For children with Down syndrome swimming benefits can manifest quickly and have a lasting impact. Let us explore these benefits a little deeper!
Swimming is an activity that offers a full-body workout, meaning the whole body is engaged and exerting effort. Water gives swimming some unique qualities. The buoyancy of the water decreases the stress and force on the body and joints, offering a workout that is gentler on the physical body but with a greater aerobic impact. As weight management can often be a struggle for individuals with Down syndrome, swimming can really help to combat this challenge. While swimming is an aerobic and cardiovascular activity, muscles are also being worked at the same time, providing strength and tone.
As with any cardiovascular exercise, swimming develops and builds muscle, stamina, and endurance when done regularly. Another physical benefit of swimming, more so than with other forms of exercise, is the increased lung and respiratory capacity due to the unique need to hold the breath while the body and face are underwater. Lung capacity is the volume of oxygen the lungs can hold; swimming regularly increases this volume, which promotes circulation and better breathing. Good circulation helps to prevent blood clots and body infections while also being linked to a healthier heart and improved blood flow (15 Excellent Benefits, 2020.) This is especially beneficial for individuals with Down syndrome, who have a higher risk of respiratory infections (Patiroglu, Cansever & Bektas, 2018).
Swimming means using the brain! Swimming requires a great sense of body awareness, coordination, and cognitive processing in order to effectively perform the strokes. Think about freestyle (or crawl stroke): the brain needs to process each arm stroke, alternating arms while keeping the face in the water, turning the head to breathe at the moment the arm on the preferred breathing side pulls back to begin that arm stroke. This pattern continues while the swimmer kicks their legs and maintains a sense of spatial awareness of where they are in the lane and in the length of the pool so they can anticipate the upcoming wall and possible turn.
Phew, that is a lot to keep track of! But with practice, the brain and body become more effective and efficient with this process. For children with Down syndrome swimming lessons can help stretch cognitive ability by encouraging this kind of multitasking.
What happens if the swimmer gets distracted or stops paying attention to what they are doing? The technique and rhythm become thrown off, and swimming becomes challenging. The brain needs to stay attentive to what the body is doing helping to develop a greater attention span and focus. Swimming does eventually become a natural response and action, but it takes time, practice, and determination for anyone to work towards that achievement.
Emotional and Social Advantages
Again, swimming takes time, practice, and determination to develop proficiency, but what a reward that can be! There are so many successes, big and small, associated with swimming. For children with Down syndrome swimming benefits include the confidence and pride these achievements can produce. Swimming also comes with so many opportunities for socialization and peer interaction, which are often craved by children with Down syndrome. Swimming opens the door for so many social activities:
- Community Pools- Whether it is your neighborhood community pool, the local YMCA, or country club pool, there is always lots of excitement in the pool area and opportunity for children to make new friends. Some have become mini water parks and are a source of hours of fun!
- Pool Parties- The summer months come with the opportunity to attend backyard pool parties and BBQs. It is the perfect environment for socializing and meeting new people. Start RSVPing to those invites, and if you have a pool,host your own pool party!
- Swim Lessons- Group swim lessons offer so many benefits for children with Down syndrome by not only working to improve the child’s proficiency in the water, but allowing them to interact with other kids with a shared interest in swimming.
- Local Swim Team- Is your child ready to take swimming to the next level? Joining a local swim team is a great way to engage in an organized sport and to have a ton of fun! A team dynamic creates a bond and comradery amongst the members and promotes a sense of healthy pride and achievement.
For children with Down syndrome swimming lessons can provide a lifetime of benefits and a lot of fun. With summer quickly approaching, this is a great time to jump into the water and enjoy all the advantages of swimming!
At Sunsational Swim School, we bring the swim school to your pool and have many great instructors who specialize in working with special needs students. Learn more about our private at-home lessons today!
15 Excellent Benefits of Swimming for Lungs Health. (2020). Retrieved fromhttps://drhealthbenefits.com/lifestyle/healthy/healthy-activities/benefits-of-swimming-for-lungs
Patiroglu, T., Cansever, M., & Bektas, F. (2018). Underlying factors of recurrent infections in patients with down syndrome. Northern clinics of Istanbul, 5(2), 163–168. https://doi.org/10.14744/nci.2017.69379
Jennifer Stanger’s bio:
Swim Instructor in Charlotte, NC
Jennifer moved to Charlotte, NC several years ago after growing up in CT and living in various states in the New England and New York area. She was a competitive swimmer from ages 5-18 competing at both local and state levels. She started teaching swim lessons and coaching at the age of 16 and has continued her love of swimming. She now teaches group exercise classes at the local YMCAs, works in the behavioral and mental health field and continues to swim while also taking up the love of distance running. She continues to teach swim lessons to all ages and abilities as it is a way of sharing a positive experience of her own childhood with others.