According to a Gallup poll, the majority of people worldwide cannot swim and women account for most of these numbers. To anyone living in a higher income region such as North America, Europe, or Oceania, this may seem contrary to your experiences where it seems like almost everybody can swim and women are not an exception either.
That’s because people from higher-income regions do tend to have higher swimming competency compared to those living elsewhere. Obviously the data is not saying that being poor makes you a worse swimmer. Reading between the lines, my hypothesis is that people from lower income regions have less opportunities to swim due to their financial situation and the unavailability of swimming pools.
The reason why so many people in the world don’t know how to swim isn’t that they lack the aptitude. Rather, many people are held back by fear, finances, lack of swimming opportunities, or a traumatic experience. As insurmountable as these obstacles seem, they can all be overcome with enough time, effort, and the assistance of a swim instructor. Few people legitimately cannot swim due to poor health or other factors outside their control.
In this article, I am aiming to dispel many common myths and excuses people bring up when asked why they can’t swim. The goal is not to call people out for their lack of swimming ability, but to let them know that a lot of obstacles in their way can be overcome, and quite quickly in fact. Keep reading on as I get into each obstacle in more detail and how each one can be overcome.
Factors keeping people away from swimming
Fear of water (aquaphobia)
Many people who don’t know how to swim suffer from aquaphobia, which is the fear of water. Aquaphobia typically is caused by a traumatic event such as a near-drowning experience, or it could just as easily be developed by hearing too many horror stories about drownings on the news or from family and friends. For people who have aquaphobia, that means no swimming at pools, lakes, beaches; even sitting in a bathtub can potentially be scary.
There is a misconception that in order to beat aquaphobia, one just needs to know how to swim. You can know how to swim and still be afraid of the water. Some people have taken formal swimming lessons and then suffered a near-drowning experience which became the source of their aquaphobia.
The point is that swimming does not make you immune to, nor will it fix your fear of the water. You must directly address your fear, otherwise it will be difficult if not impossible for you to learn how to swim or to continue enjoying swimming, especially as you get older.
To help you overcome this fear, you can enlist some professional help. Look specifically for adult swimming lessons offered at your local swimming pool. The first thing instructors will do is help students deal with their decades of fear of the water. Instructors understand that there’s no point even teaching swimming techniques until this fear is overcome.
Thankfully, it does not take very long for some to overcome their fear. I have personally witnessed older swimmers go from having a crippling fear of the water to being able to confidently swim a lap on their own after just a week or two of lessons.
Even the slowest learner eventually overcame their fear, learned basic swimming techniques, and became halfway decent swimmers within a few short months. Put your faith in your swim instructor and follow their exercises to help you overcome your fear of the water.
Due to our recreational culture, swimming and other water sports have become popular pastimes that many people engage in.
For people who don’t know how to swim, this has become a source of embarrassment for them every time they have to decline an invitation or sit on the sidelines and watch their friends have the time of their lives. Not knowing how to swim feels like having a social handicap for many people.
Many kids were enrolled in formal swimming lessons when they were young, and that is why as adults they know how to swim and don’t have a fear of water. Growing up knowing how to swim, they were able to fully take advantage of opportunities to hang out with friends at the beach or the pool, resulting in greater social skills and more or stronger friendships.
People who did not have this opportunity when they were younger, or who had aquaphobia that was never addressed, want to learn how to swim but their fear prevents them from even starting. They lament missing all the opportunities that others had due to their fear of the water. They are stuck in a never-ending cycle of fear and embarrassment and need help.
Once again, a swim instructor that specializes in training adults is needed to help you overcome your fear of the water, help you learn how to swim, and ultimately help you quash the embarrassment you feel for not knowing how to swim.
For some people, their embarrassment stems from an even simpler reason: they think that swimsuits are too revealing and don’t want to show their body off to strangers. Thankfully, the solution is also simple: full-body swimsuits or rash guards.
You may be 40 years old or older and think that it’s too late for you to learn how to swim. Conversely, if you are a parent with infant children, you may think that it’s too early for your kids to learn how to swim.
In reality, there is no minimum age limit or maximum age limit. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Red Cross encourage parents to introduce their kids to the water as early as six months to one year of age. More specifically, the most important time for children to learn how to swim is between 1-4 years of age.
This number is based on a study conducted by the AAP which found that children in that age range had an 88% reduction in risk of drowning if they had taken formal swimming lessons compared to children who hadn’t.
As for people who think they are too old, swimming is arguably the best sport for seniors or people with physical disabilities to do. The reason is that being in a pool of water is similar to being in a weightless environment.
Swimming is a very low impact activity that does not put much stress on the joints. For this reason, it is a very good activity for injured people to rehabilitate and for older individuals to get much-needed exercise.
Are you out of shape and not sure if you have the stamina and endurance to be able to swim? Not to worry, you are not going to get tossed into the deep end of the pool and expected to swim laps on your first day.
If you decide to take swimming lessons, instructors will first start you off in the shallow pool. You can literally just stand up in it and you don’t have to spend energy staying afloat.
You will slowly be introduced to progressively more difficult exercises at a pace you can handle, meanwhile you are building up your endurance as you are learning.
Swimming is very effective at burning calories and it is estimated you can burn 250 calories every 30 minutes. If you are not satisfied with the shape of your body, swimming can help you achieve a toned, athletic look and will help you to get into shape.
Lack of access
If you lack access to a swimming pool or swim instructors, unfortunately there is not anything we can do to help in this regard.
Just understand that you can learn how to swim at any age. Even if you cannot swim now, if you truly want to, then perhaps someday you will live in a location where you have access to a swimming pool and swim instructor.
Lack of time
I get it. Life can be hectic, especially if you’re a parent. Sometimes you wish a day had 25 hours instead, but alas, you are stuck with only 24. If only you had just a little bit of extra time, maybe you would be able to learn how to swim.
That said, know that swim lessons don’t necessarily need to be taken back to back. You don’t need to clear your whole week just for swimming lessons. You are free to schedule the lessons on different days, at different hours. Even if you can only afford to attend one or two 45 minute sessions a week, in just a few short months you can learn how to swim.
You may have a pre-existing medical condition that makes it dangerous to go swimming. The older you get, the more likely you are to have health issues. If this applies to you, then I highly recommend seeing a doctor before you decide to learn how to swim.
Let your doctor know that you intend on learning how to swim at the pool and ask if you have any conditions that can flare up due to the physical activity required.
For instance, people with a history of heart attacks or seizures are probably not good candidates for learning how to swim. If these conditions flare up, it’s basically a death sentence in the water.
Listen to what your doctor recommends and follow it. There may be workarounds you need to do, or you may be given a full “all clear.”
Generally speaking, if you have no medical conditions to be concerned about, swimming should be a fantastic choice for seniors because of how low impact it is, as mentioned in another section. Swimming is also credited with helping older swimmers maintain a physical condition that is 20 years younger than their actual age.
Few other exercises are as safe to do for people with medical conditions as swimming is, so don’t let that be a deterrent. Get your doctor’s opinion first.