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    Credit: NICK ORABOVIC

 
Scot Hunsaker,

In the past few years the aquatics industry has experienced an aggressive use of mandates (Virginia Graeme Baker Act, ADA compliance, APSP codes). By my estimation, those mandates have cost facilities hundreds of millions of dollars.

Those issues have challenged the industry like never before.

But let’s not let ongoing regulatory hurdles crowd out all of swimming’s advantages such as promoting healthier lifestyles and building community assets.

Remember, jogging was popular in the 1970s; now those same people need hip and knee replacements, and they’re healing in water, notes Dr. J. B. Smith, educator, researcher,and author of Hot Water & Healthy Living (published by NSPF).

Additonally, Smith says water submersion benefits include increased circulation, more efficient breathing and mood improvement. Water immersion not only gives an “ahhh” feeling, but there’s also a 22 percent increase in blood flow for older people, and a 59 percent increase for young people — just from immersing the body in water!

A lot of people get it. The National Sporting Goods Association consistently ranks swimming as the top aspirational activity for kids and seniors. It’s also in the top three of aspirational activities for all age groups.

But more people need to get the message. More than half of U.S. adults do not meet the recommended level of moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity physical activity, and physical activity levels decrease dramatically with age. Almost one-fourth of U.S. adults report no leisure-time physical activity, according to a 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Sedentary lifestyles have been showing up in children as well: Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The percentage of children ages 6 to 11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008. The percentage of adolescents ages 12 to 19 years who were obese increased from 5 percent to 18 percent over the same period. In 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

In 2010, the U.S. population included 40 million over the age of 65; in 2050, that number will be a staggering 88.5 million, with many seniors becoming sedentary.

Aquatics holds the antidote to all these problems.

Children love splashing, floating and diving — and adults can feel like kids again. Regular physical activity also helps the elderly maintain joint strength and mobility, substantially delaying the onset of loss of independence. Water is versatile: gentle on the body, yet has a resistance 12 times stronger than air.

After kids and adults learn to swim, there’s another world waiting out there. Besides swim teams and lap swimming, there’s an abundance of innovative components being designed for today’s aquatics centers, and it goes beyond diving boards and water slides. Components include dramatic bouldering walls for climbing. The wall leans out over the pool, allowing climbers to traverse the wall through numerous waterfalls without the need for ropes, harnesses and the like. Infinity-edge pools feature rope swings or  zip lines, which offer the thrill of going airborne with an exciting splash landing.

Another case in point is a lazy river made into a kayak course. With boulders that can be relocated for varying flow characteristics, the course is anything but lazy. Water floatables now include obstacle courses for individual and team challenges. Components include a base, balance beam, bridge, slide, long jump and high jump, all of which quickly and easily connect together for customizable competitive events.

For older adults, we’re seeing an influx of spa amenities at aquatics centers, such as adventure showers with soft waterfalls and fog jets. Saltwater grottos offer concentrated saline baths enriched with salt from the Dead Sea. The waterscape offers a soft play of atmospheric underwater lights and music, where guests can weightlessly float in a unique state of balance — a real elixir for the stressed body and soul. Sauna gardens with aromatic scents of eucalyptus, spruce and mint extracts evoke a sense of fascination, stimulation and contemplation, thanks to ergonomically shaped loungers and meditative music. What fun ways not to be sedentary!

Despite the onus of swimming pool mandates, we cannot lose focus on teaching people to swim and inviting them to use their treasured community assets to grow families and promote healthy lifestyles. The National Swimming Pool Foundation is making it a priority to support education and research for healthier living, understanding that the aquatics industry is a critical ingredient for healthy living. Will you join their efforts?