Swim England

A nation swimming

New Swim England film encourages nurses to consider ‘Swimming as Medicine’

Swimming and aquatic activity can offer significant benefits to the health and wellbeing of individuals. Nursing staff can make a real difference by referring and signposting to services and communities, supporting people to live longer and healthier lives.

This view is highlighted by Dr Nichola Ashby, the UK Deputy Chief Nurse at the Royal College of Nursing, in a short film launched by Swim England to encourage more nursing staff and other healthcare professionals to ask, suggest and equip their patients to experience the benefits of being active in water.

The third in the national governing body’s ‘Swimming as Medicine’ series, the film follows two others which were launched in 2023, filmed in conjunction with the Royal College of GPs and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

The latest film has been developed in response to research commissioned by Swim England in 2020, which identified nurses as a key professional group in influencing behaviour change at an individual patient level.

Nurse practitioner and Physical Activity Clinical Champion, Michelle Turner, is featured in the video, sharing her experiences as a nurse in how talking to patients about swimming has led to significant improvements in their health.

Michelle says: “As nurses we have the power and influence to help our patients think about becoming active through swimming.

“By us mentioning first to the patient about that and talking about the benefits of swimming we are able to find out where there is a service that can help that person get back in the water.”

A prime example of that approach is David Read, who took up swimming to help control type 2 diabetes.

David says: “I am sure that I would be suffering from some of the complications that type 2 diabetes brings – if I’m not 100 per cent I get in the pool and actually most of those problems go away.”

The film series aims to maximise the number of conversations around swimming, encouraging nursing staff and patients to take advantage of a commitment from hundreds of public swimming pools across the country.

They have pledged to provide greater access to opportunities to engage in health promoting activities in the water – promoting both physical and mental health.

This commitment is growing through Swim England’s Water Wellbeing programme, which supports pool owners and operators to become more accessible, inclusive and welcoming to people who may have long term health conditions or impairments and face a greater number of barriers to being active.

Glynis Humphreys and Dawn Rose also feature in the video, both having their own challenges to staying active, but each finding their own way to keep going, with the help of their local pool.

Glynis mixes swimming with regular aqua-fit classes and experiences significant benefits in terms of balance and suppleness and finding that despite the problems she sometimes has with walking, swimming is far easier and thoroughly enjoyable.

Dawn echoes this, having osteoarthritis in her hips and neck, limiting what she is able to do on a day-to-day basis, which was affecting her mental health. Dawn explains how going to her local pool was transformative. “I came along to the aqua class – being in the water was like magic,” she explained.

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Andrew Power, Swim England water wellbeing specialist, says; “Getting in the water is great for everyone, but can also be particularly powerful for people who struggle to be active in other ways, due to chronic pain, poor mobility, low mood and depression or anxiety.

“More and more, society is recognising the benefits of an active lifestyle and how important activities like swimming can be in contributing to a healthy and happy life.

“We hope that this short film will go a long way in helping to underline some of those benefits and how healthcare professionals can be such a valuable influence in helping people to take those first tentative steps back into the water, or perhaps for the first time.”

Jessica Turner, UK Professional Lead for Public Health at the Royal College of Nursing, adds: “The experiences shared in this film show just how beneficial swimming and aquatic activity can be. We hope this will support nursing staff to feel confident in promoting the benefits of swimming and aquatic activity, where appropriate, to their patients.”

All of the ‘Swimming as Medicine’ films direct people to Swim England’s Poolfinder tool, which contains information on thousands of pools across the country, how to get in touch with them, what accessibility options are in place and what kind of activities are offered from women and men only sessions, to aqua-fit and structured rehabilitation options, allowing individuals to make informed choices.

The national governing body are keen to see the films being used in healthcare settings and online resources. Healthcare facing organisations can get in touch via [email protected] to request access to the video assets developed and guidance around their use.

There is also a wealth of information available on the benefits of swimming with health conditions, including fact sheets on swimming with specific health conditions.

To find out more about Swim England’s work around health and wellbeing, visit the Swim England health and wellbeing hub.