20 Aug 2014
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Overwhelmed With Stress? Keep Swimming.

I've been taking time out for workouts.

Overwhelmed With Stress? Keep Swimming.

“You’re going to be busy. Keep a routine. Go to bed at the same time each night, eat healthy meals, and make sure you get in some exercise.” It’s sensible advice from any doctor, but in this case it came from a coworker.

This routine, she told me, is what would get me through the final stages of my thesis project.

As I jumped back into the pool this week, I realized that she’s right.

I’ve known how to swim for most of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of standing on the pool deck or splashing through chlorinated water. I swam through grade school and high school until college, when I left for the greener (and sometimes muddier) pastures of full-contact team sports.

In the stressful first year of graduate school, I returned to the pool as a much-needed outlet. Participating in Master’s swimming–"Master's" is the designation for  adult swimming–changed the sport for me. (Full disclosure: I train lifeguards and occasionally coach Master's practices for Columbia Association.)

First of all, it wasn’t easy. After being out of regular practice for several years, it took time, effort and patience to build up fitness and endurance. It was (and still is) humbling to hop in the water as an early-twenty-something and routinely fall behind swimmers twice my age.

For the same reason, Master’s swimming inspires me to push past my comfort zone. That inspiration and support from others in the pool drove me to participate in open water events, which were entirely new to me, and eventually .

More importantly, choosing to put time into a swimming program as an adult helped me take ownership of my training in a way that I did not as a teenager. I’m very aware of the time that training takes from other aspects of my life.

I’m also acutely aware of the benefits: more smiles, better sleep (despite the 5 a.m. wake-up calls), a sharper mind during the day and a calmer approach to “problem” situations.

Some days, a difficult, intense workout demands my complete attention. Other mornings, an easy-to-follow set gives me plenty of time to think about things—like my thesis project or a grant proposal—while I’m gliding back and forth across the pool.

There are plenty of reasons to swim. For one, it’s also a life-saving skill (although I can think of some situations where javelin might also come in handy).

Swimming offers a great cardio workout without the wear-and-tear of other high-impact sports. It’s a mostly aerobic activity that works major muscle groups.

There’s also more than one might expect in a sport that’s mostly underwater. Teammates sharing a lane often encourage each other through a challenging set. Swimmers chat before and after practice, or even share breakfast before starting the day. 

For me, despite my change in perspective, the biggest benefit of swimming is that it has become a constant.

It’s not about speed (which is good, since I’m definitely not the fastest person in the pool). Instead, I know I can return to the pool and get precisely what I need, whether it’s stress relief, more energy, a good workout, or just some time to think. 

And that time-out, even in the hectic rush through what’s hopefully the end of my thesis project, is definitely time well spent.

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