My doctor advised me to go swimming to help my back... but I couldn’t swim

When Martin Barnes’ doctor advised him to go swimming to help treat his bad back, there was only one slight problem – he couldn’t swim.

So, at the age of 60 and having taken early retirement, he decided it was time to take lessons.

Three years on, Martin is advocating the adage that you’re never too old to learn as part of the Swim England-led #LoveSwimming campaign.

After initially having lessons as a nine-year-old, he didn’t think about learning to swim properly until in his mid-40s but found times restrictive while working.

That changed when he was referred to the pool by his GP to help treat Ankylosing Spondylitis – a condition in which the spine becomes inflamed.

He said: “I have a bit of back problem and my doctor said to me the best thing for me was swimming.

“I hadn’t seen the inside of swimming pool until I was nine years old. Prior to that, I lived in countryside where there were no swimming facilities.

“When I moved to Lincoln, I didn’t get much help as they focused on people who could already swim and swim for their school.

“In secondary school, I just stopped as there was no lessons at the school. I never really got back into it.

“I think the point I thought I ought to learn was when we went on holiday in Florida and I couldn’t really go into the pool, apart from with kids in shallow end.

“When I got to 60, I had the time to get involved now and I wanted to give it a go. I was little nervous but the fact that it was adult swimming lessons comforted me as I was with people in the same boat.

Nothing to be ashamed of

“It’s a no-shame environment as you’re around people who have been in the same position. New people come into our lessons and it’s great to give them support.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to go with others that could do it as you just have that feeling of embarrassment but there was nothing to be ashamed of.

“Swimming has definitely helped my back – its been a big contribution to helping this. My spine stiffens up and so swimming has been brilliant to release this and stop it from being stiff.”

Aside from the physical benefits, Martin has noticed the social aspects from swimming too.

“You get to know people,” he said. “It’s a very social thing. One of the lads that goes, we now play badminton together.

“Quite a few gone through life without being able to swim and I was quite fearful of the water.

“I’ve been doing it thee years now and I feel a lot more confident in the water and a lot more relaxed than I did before.

“It’s quite relaxing when I’m doing the backstroke – less so when I’m doing front stroke but hopefully I will master this soon.”

The Swim England-led #LoveSwimming campaign aims to inspire the 14 million adults across the country who cannot swim.

Latest figures show 14.2 million – one in three of the adult population in England (31 per cent) – cannot swim one length of a 25m pool.

To find out more about swimming facilities and lessons near you, visit