Swimming Can Boost Your Child’s Fitness and Confidence – and It’s Fun
By Lori Zanteson
For most L.A. families, summer means swimming – lessons at the community pool, trips to the beach, excursions to local lakes, even the thrill of a water park. Definitely the coolest way to beat Southland heat, swimming is also one of the best ways to get kids active and outdoors. And those strokes, splashes and dives are not only a blast, they’re dripping with all-around benefits that help keep kids safe, fit and healthy now and long into their futures.
“Swimming is terrific for kids!” says Danelle Fisher, M.D., Vice Chair of Pediatrics at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. “I try to encourage kids to get into it, as there are so many health benefits. It’s an amazing exercise that hits all muscle groups, helps control weight and is low-impact. It’s a total-body workout and you don’t even feel it.”
Motivating kids to exercise on hot summer days can be a challenge, especially with the allure of sedentary activities in the air-conditioned indoors. But a game of volleyball in the pool or a cannonball contest scores as many giggles as physical benefits, so kids might not even realize they’re exercising.
Swimming is also a great way to build self-esteem. Because swimmers may compete – either individually or as part of a team, against the clock or against themselves – there are many ways for all different skill sets and personalities to excel and earn a feeling of success. And hitting a swim milestone or even conquering fear of the water can be empowering. “It’s one of those things they’re proud of,” says Fisher. “You can see kids’ faces light up.”
Socially, Fran Walfish, Psy. D., a family psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, has seen swimming really open up the world for kids who were quiet, shy and without a lot of friends. Having teammates and sharing a common passion can be life-changing, and developing a healthy competitive spirit can benefit other aspects of children’s lives.
While it’s important to encourage children, Walfish cautions parents not to go too far. “A lot of parents push too hard, and there can be a power struggle,” she says. “It’s important to be gentle and not forceful. A little nudge can be very helpful.”
Before the kids take the plunge, make sure everyone in the family is primed in water safety. One of the most important rules to remember is to keep an eye on the kids, says Nayeli Trejos, Los Angeles-based aquatics specialist for the American Red Cross. “Never leave them unattended or allow them unsupervised access to water,” she says. Trejos cautions parents to be aware of situations – such as hotel or apartment-complex pools – where there is no lifeguard on duty, or an unlocked pool gate that older kids can reach. Look for gates with locks or alarms that sound to alert parents that the gate is being opened.
In the ocean, lakes and streams, Trejos stresses the importance of staying within designated swimming areas near a lifeguard. Swimmers should also be aware of potential hazards such as waves, rip currents and plant and aquatic life. Always check the surf report before heading to the beach, she says. Rough conditions are a valid reason to stay home.
Once you know your kids are water-safe, you can head to the pool or the beach with confidence. Summer is the perfect time for your kids to get their feet wet.
Lori Zanteson is a mom, writer and frequent contributor to L.A. Parent.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
Fun in the sun isn’t safe without sunscreen to protect your family’s skin against cancer-causing UVA and UVB rays. New government rules about sunscreen labeling will make it easier to find brands offering the best protection. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen that is:
Broad spectrum, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays;
Formulated with SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30; and
Water resistant for 40 or 80 minutes before needing to be reapplied. FDA no longer allows manufacturers to claim sunscreens are “waterproof.”
For the safest possible sunscreen, SoCal pediatrician JJ Levenstein, M.D., recommends mineral sunscreens that protect with zinc and/or titanium, which aren’t absorbed into the skin, offer great broad-spectrum protection, and can be used by all ages. “They generally cost more, but one to two blistering sunburns before the age of 18 doubles one’s lifetime risk of melanoma,” says the founder of the MD Moms line of nontoxic skincare products. “To me, reducing that risk with an appropriate sunscreen is a small price to pay.” Sunscreens that protect with chemicals like avobenzone or oxybenzone have “decent UVA/UVB properties,” Levenstein says, but are more likely to irritate the skin.
– Christina Elston