Leading surgeon extols the importance of swimming for health and wellbeing

Swimming and Health Commission member Professor Scarlett McNally has used the pages of the BMJ to send a clear message to the medical community about the importance of swimming for the body, mind and communities.

Professor McNally, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, is deputy director of the Centre for Perioperative Care, president of the Medical Women’s Federation and has supported Swim England’s Health Commission for nearly eight years as a respected expert in medical circles and an advocate for physical activity.

She was invited to write an opinion piece for the BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal – one of the world’s oldest general medical journals – and made the most of the opportunity to advocate the benefits of aquatic activity.

“Should we maybe acknowledge the health implications of our possible watery past?” McNally ponders, suggesting that the possibility of human evolution from a watery past could shed light on the health implications of that journey and the profound relationship between humans and water, beyond sport and recreation.

Health benefits of swimming

“Swimming and other aquatic activities have immense benefits for health and wellbeing” McNally emphasises, listing a range of benefits from the impact of hydrostatic pressure on the body to improved social connectedness, swimming clearly caters for a wide range of age groups and communities.

The Swimming and Health Commission, of which McNally is a member, has been instrumental in promoting the health benefits of swimming since the Health and Wellbeing Benefits of Swimming Report was published in 2017, prompting the development of the Water Wellbeing programme which is now rolling out across the country at a significant rate.

“Strategies for preventing illness need to consider how people can get involved, as well as why it’s important.

“This includes primary prevention (never getting the condition) and tertiary prevention (reducing the complications of existing conditions). Swimming helps with both,” says McNally.

Also mentioned in the BMJ article is Swim England’s award winning collaboration with Good Boost, a rehabilitation app that designs personalised water-based exercises, using artificial intelligence.

This has been a resounding success, with Swim England’s Poolfinder tool currently showing more than 140 facilities with Good Boost, and all are reporting that the app is having a significant impact on individuals’ health and disability.

Users of the app have reported a 41 per cent reduction in pain and a 52 per cent improvement in quality of life, showcasing its effectiveness, but also the potential held by water-based activity when applied in the right way.

Active Hartlepool: Mill House Leisure Centre’s triumph

In the North East of England, Hartlepool Borough Council’s Mill House Leisure Centre achieved Water Wellbeing accreditation in January 2023.

The integration of the Good Boost system into the aquatic programme for people with general, knee, lower back and hip complaints, has shown reductions in self-reported pain over 12 weeks.

The data hub social value calculator indicates that the facility generates £88 in social value per person locally. However, recent data from Good Boost indicates a generation of £586 in social value (through avoided hospital, social care and health intervention costs) underscoring the economic and community benefit derived from programmes such as this, which have led to its expansion in Hartlepool.

Tadcaster Community Swimming Pool: A beacon of inclusivity

Located in North Yorkshire, Tadcaster Community Swimming Pool achieved Water Wellbeing accreditation in June 2023.

Also incorporating the Good Boost aquatic rehabilitation system, the pool has become a hub of inclusivity.

Participants have reported back that sessions drastically improved their medical condition, helping to improve their balance day-to-day, through performing dynamic exercises in the pool, leading to other activities within the facility and increased levels of physical activity.

The personal account of one participant at Tadcaster Community Swimming Pool adds depth to the financial and economic value of programmes like this.

Sharing their experience, they said: “In early 2020, aged 41, I underwent two spinal surgeries following an injury.

“Covid then meant I had no post-op physiotherapy and was unable to swim. Fast-forward a couple of years to early 2023. I wanted to enjoy the water again.

“When I finally braved the courage to go to Tadcaster and ask the team at the pool for help, they were wonderful!

“Straight away they told me about Good Boost. I joked with the group that I would call my story ‘the first sneeze’ because the first sneeze of a morning used to be so painful. And if I felt it niggling as I lay in bed, I would absolutely dread the shooting pain through my lower back.

“The morning after my first Good Boost session, I felt the sneeze coming and to my surprise, it didn’t hurt!

“It’s now part of my regular routine to ensure I prioritise my strength and mobility exercises and I’m also now able to swim distance too. You will usually find me in the pool at least twice a week, if not three times.”

The triumphs in Tadcaster and Hartlepool are not isolated cases, with similar success stories being told by the 180 Water Wellbeing accredited facilities up and down the country.

These stories exemplify the potential of aquatic programs to benefit health, create inclusive communities, improve overall fitness and pave the way for a healthier future.

As McNally concludes in the BMJ piece, she writes: “It becomes evident that swimming is not just a leisure activity but a powerful tool for enhancing physical and mental wellbeing.”

The full BMJ article can be found by clicking here.

For more information on Swim England’s work around health and wellbeing, visit the national governing body’s health hub.

  • Original Article: swimming.org
  • Date: February 2024