Swimming in SW France – Like a fish to water!
Wherever, whenever and however you swim, it’s great exercise, great fun and can seriously lift your spirits.
Whether you float, swim lengths, exercise, try a bit of synchronised swimming or play games, there is nothing better than the feeling of a refreshing pool on a hot day. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a pool in your garden. This region has a wealth of fabulous leisure centres with water slides, waves and waterfalls, as well as pretty lakes with dedicated areas for supervised swimming, cooling local rivers and, of course, there is the magnificent Silver Coast with the Atlantic Ocean.
Swimming for Health
Improving flexibility and strengthening the muscles as well as your heart and lungs, a gentle half-hour swim can burn around 200 calories, whilst an hour of energetic swimming will burn more calories than running or cycling! Whilst not everyone can sustain that level of activity, even swimming one or two lengths as fast as you can will boost cardiovascular activity and improve your metabolism.
The buoyancy of the water means that swimming is a low impact sport and, as such, is ideal for all ages. Exaggerating the effect of even the most gentle exercise, it offers ten times more resistance than air, which adds up to more power to your elbow, not to mention other joints.
Regardless of your fitness level, swimming reduces stress and aids relaxation. It can help with depression and improve sleep patterns, and guard against heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It will also increase energy levels and, with this sport, a good mood is only one swim away. Plus, swimming in SW France is an ideal way to keep cool on hot summer days!
On the Record
Ancient Egyptian drawings and paintings showed people swimming back in 2500 BC. They had to, it was the only way to cross rivers and lakes.
Little did they know that thousands of years later swimming would become an Olympic event in 1896 for men, with women’s events making their first splash in 1912. An English chap, Captain Matthew Webb, was the first man to swim the Channel in 1875, and Mark Spitz was the first Olympic swimmer to win seven gold medals in a single Games in 1972. As a teenager in 1926, Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim from the UK to France, and Esther Williams became the star of synchronised swimming with the advent of aqua musicals in the 1940’s and 50’s.
From Victorian days, when just a glimpse of flesh from the steps of the bathing hut was enough to send shock waves through the sea, the costumes have morphed from being a complete cover up and Long Johns to the sleekest, lightest sportswear as well as the most glamorous of garments.
Speeds have increased too with 50m World Freestyle records set at 20.26 seconds by Frenchman Florent Manaudou in 2014, and 22.93 by the Dutch woman, Ranomi Kromowidjojo in 2017 (25m pools). To put that into context, he was powering through the water at 8.88 km an hour!
Learning to Swim
Learning to swim is obviously essential, as is using the right aids and equipment to help learners through the early stages. Swimming lessons with a professional is the safest option and is likely to bring the best results most quickly. At home and under supervision, floats or kick boards are ideal to practice both arms and legs, and arm bands and rubber rings help to ensure that heads stay above the water line. A steadying hand under the tummy or back will provide additional safety until the swimmer feels they can go it alone. New swimmers may prefer goggles and nose clips if they are not used to water being near their face or eyes. Playing appropriate water games will also help to raise confidence.
It is astonishing to think that, in this day and age, drowning sits at number three in the list of unintentional deaths, with the World Health Organisation reporting an estimated 360,000 fatalities across the globe in 2015. It really is never too late to learn.
There’s a stroke for every occasion. With a somewhat frivolous eye on the subject, Breaststroke will allow you to keep your hair dry, Backstroke can help to top up the tan, Butterfly will have you moving like a dolphin, and Freestyle (Front Crawl) will make you feel like a super hero. At the other end of the scale, for those who are feeling their years or who just want a leisurely swim with simple breathing, don’t forget the good old-fashioned Side Stroke. Whatever your stroke, have a great time swimming in SW France.
Not a swimmer? You can still enjoy hours of fun in the water with these easy games.
Marco Polo: With eyes closed, one swimmer says “Marco” and tries to tag the others from the sound of their voice when they respond with the word “Polo”.
Kick back: Two people each hold an end of a float and, using their legs, try to push the other swimmer backwards.
Underwater Tag: One swimmer tries to cross the pool underwater and another tries to tag them. Once tagged, they take over as the tagger.
Crab Tag: Swimming on the surface, the swimmers blow bubbles into the water as hard as they can whilst swimming around (great for those nervous of putting their face in the water). Another swimmer, the crab, tries to touch their feet. Once caught, they become a crab.
Push Float: Using two feet, the swimmers push off from the side and float for as long as they can. The one to reach the furthest point is the winner.
The Lobster: Float on your front, head up and use a soft kicking motion with your legs. Then stretch your arms out at the side and make gathering motions to bring the water into the middle and you will move backwards! The one to reach the other end first wins.
Treasure Hunt: throw a selection of coins or weights into the pool. The first one to bring three of them up to the surface is the winner.
Keep safe and have fun swimming in SW France and all over the world!
First published in the July/August 2019 issue of The Local Buzz