For many people, swimming was a regular activity that has had to be entirely given up during the coronavirus lockdown.
While it’s just an inconvenience for some to have their hobbies taken away from them, for others it was a lifeline, helping people to control their mental and physical health.
The gentle but effective nature of swimming makes it a great recovery exercise for a whole range of aches and pains. GPs may suggest swimming to help everything from chronic pain to injury rehabilitation.
For many, though, the activity came to an abrupt ending at the start of the coronavirus lockdown.
According to the government, the phased re-opening of leisure facilities will begin in July.
There’s no mention of swimming pools opening any earlier - which also includes outdoor pools - in the first round of lockdown easing measures which will begin on 1 June with places like non-essential shops.
Leisure facilities like gyms were firmly in the July category of the government’s phased re-opening approach and that’s dependent on the COVID-19 improvements being seen across the board.
That marks another month without a lifeline that many people are reliant on.
One person, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has seen the first-hand impact that the closure of pools has had on her physical health.
“I’ve dealt with chronic pain and fatigue for 5 years now, and it’s always annoyed me when I go to the GP mid-flare with decreased mobility and exhaustion and they were almost definitely say ‘have you tried swimming?’
“It infuriated me because at that moment I could barely move let alone think about about swimming. But I would do it (when able) as a stubborn act of defiance, to prove it won’t help. I’d have good streaks of swimming every other day, whether that was a good day (20 length of a 20m is pool) or a bad day (4 lengths). I enjoy swimming, I think it’s good for the body and brain but until it’s been taken away from me by a global pandemic I never realised how much.”
Although she doesn’t believe swimming will completely stop the pain, she believed it was an “excellent way to keep my body and joints moving”, which has proven harder to do amid a global pandemic.
“Since lockdown I’ve had the worst flare I’ve had in at least a year. Again, I don’t think swimming would have made it go away quicker (mainly because there’s no chance I would have been able to get to the pool) but there is an argument that my movement dramatically decreased without commuting to work or a swim. It takes nine steps to get across my little London flat!
“Now I’m through that flare I feel extremely weak, desperate to build myself up again but do feel scared to push myself too hard when it comes to walking, for me it is more painful than swimming and I do feel I flag quicker - I also worry I’ll exhaust myself and not be able to return home!
“Whereas swimming is in the same spot, it feels safer. I yearn for a pool right now, to feel that weightless relief and to be able to move in ways dry land doesn’t allow. I’m also lucky enough to be a member of a pool with a sauna and big jacuzzi - heat is an excellent tool in pain relief, I am always desperate to get in that sauna or jacuzzi (I don’t own a bath) when pain strikes.”
So, what can people in similar situations until swimming pools open again?
Firstly, outdoor spaces are fine to use, but swimming in the sea or in a lake may only be for strong swimmers (or ones who aren’t too prone to the cold).
Open-water swimming in lakes is still an option, too. Open-water swimming rose in popularity last summer and as long as the lake isn’t shut to the public, there’s no reason people shouldn’t use it as part of ongoing daily exercise.
Swim England has put together a document for people thinking of swimming in open waters during the coronavirus pandemic, which includes practical safety information as well as rules on social distancing.
The information document also lists all open-water swimming venues available to people.
With warmer weather on the way, this might be a time to pick back up a hobby you’ve previously tried, but by ensuring you’re doing so in a safe way, following Swim England’s advice.