published Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Water fitness

Even the youngest of children gain benefits from swimming

Audio clip

John Woods

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Brian Mu helps Katie Gregory practice a swim stroke during class at GPS Tuesday morning.

With a race here, a splash there and shouts of "Marco Polo" everywhere, children may not be able to overlook the fun of a pool to see the fitness aspects of swimming.

But the fitness component of swimming shouldn't go unrecognized, area instructors say.

"It really works your body," said Emily Krause, aquatics coordinator at the Downtown YMCA. "(Children) are exhausted after a 30-minute lesson. They play, and it's good for them. They tread water, and it gives such resistance -- more than (similar movement) would on land."

John Woods, swimming coach at Girls Preparatory School and head coach of the Scenic City Aquatic Club, said unless a child is just floating on a inner tube or raft the fitness aspects of swimming are evident.

"It's not usually five or 10 minutes," he said. "They're in and out of the water, splashing around, staying active. They're jumping off the diving board, swimming to the side. It's such a fun thing that they end up spending more time in the water."

Peggy Grall, aquatics coordinator with Chattanooga's Department of Parks and Recreation, said swimming burns up calories, builds relationships with friends and provides structure when it involves a team sport. It's also a lifelong sport, she said, and can be beneficial strictly for fitness later in life.

Most parents initially get their children involved in swimming for safety reasons, Mr. Woods said.

"Being out in the water on a boat, in their own pool -- it's just about getting kids water safe," he said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that measure of safety now can start even earlier than it previously recommended. Late last month, after previously suggesting swim classes for children younger than 4 might give parents a false sense of security, the pediatricians group said lessons for children as young as 1 are OK.

Ms. Grall said such decisions should depend on the individual child and how often the child is around the water.

"Not every 3-year-old is ready to participate in a (swimming) class setting," she said, "but some (younger children) are ready to go in no time."

The Downtown YMCA offers a variety of swim lessons, including a parent-tot class for children six to 36 months old.

Ms. Krause said the class doesn't offer formal swimming instruction for that age, but a time for children to be in the water with their parents and get used to the water. They learn to jump in and go under, she said.

"It opens a lot of them to the idea of swimming," she said.

Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics' suggestion, the Downtown YMCA, according to Ms. Krause, is going to leave its minimum age for swim lessons at 3 years.

"That's about the age they're strong enough to pull themselves around in the water," she said. "It's not that we feel like some of them aren't ready (before)."

The Department of Parks and Recreation also will stay with lessons for children ages 3 and older. However, Ms. Grall said, private lessons could be arranged for children whose parents would like them to start earlier.

"It's a great sport," she said. "It gets them up and moving."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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