Swimming: The Fountain of Youth? -- March 3, 2005
PHOENIX, March 3. THE fabled Fountain of Youth may be found in a pool near you, according to research by Indiana University's Dr. Joel Stager, an exercise physiologist, who has found that regular and fairly intensive swimming can substantially delay the decline of such age markers as blood pressure, muscle mass, blood chemistry and pulmonary function.
Last April, Stager, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology, and his research team from the Human Performance Lab performed a battery of tests on 200 swimmers at the U.S. Masters Short Course Swimming Championships in Indianapolis. They measured age markers, whose physiological functional capacity typically declines by about one percent per year beginning around the age of 25, and compared their findings with similar data collected on the general population.
"We're starting to find out that a lot of the decline is probably related to a decline in activity rather than aging per se," Stager said. "The hypothesis is that activity preserves physiological function."
The researchers found that by regularly swimming 3,500 to 5,000 yards (roughly 2 to 3 miles) three to five times a week, these USMS swimmers postponed the aging process, not only for years but for decades. They found that many of the swimmers delayed this natural decline until the age of 70.
Stager is the director of the Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming, and is an avid swimmer himself, swimming roughly 3,000 yards five times a week. For recreational swimmers, any amount of swimming is beneficial, he said, particularly for the least active. A workout should depend on goals, such as preparing for competition, improving fitness or seeking health and well-being benefits.
"The health and well-being benefits start with a minimal amount of swimming," Stager said. "If you want the fitness effect, you'll need to look at getting your heart rate up and boosting the intensity."
Stager said most of the male and female swimmers examined in spring 2004 reported swimming 3,500-5,000 yards five days a week. He received a grant from USMS to get a better grasp of how much swimmers actually swim, using accelerometers to measure how often, how far and how intensely they swim. He received another USMS grant to focus his research on the relationship between swimming, aging and muscle mass and function. The loss of muscle mass is a big concern among the aging, he said, because of its effect on range of motion and quality of life.
Stager recently presented his findings to the World Sports Medicine Congress, and he will present abstracts of the research this summer at a conference of the American College of Sports Medicine.