There are now an estimated 8.6 million public and residential pools in the U.S., making the activity more accessible than ever. To find a public one for your workouts, check with your local community center or fitness club. But before stepping in, follow these precautions:
Get the go-ahead. See a health professional before beginning any new exercise regimen. With swimming, that’s especially critical if you have heart disease or lung disease, since water pressure can increase the stress on your heart and lungs. And if you’re a beginning swimmer or you feel uneasy about getting back into a pool, wear a belt, vest, or other flotation device to help keep your head above water.
Check for cleanliness. Poorly maintained swimming pools are common, allowing bacteria and viruses to cause outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness and ear and eye infections. Inspections at 3,666 health clubs in 13 states found serious lapses requiring the immediate closing of 10 percent of the pools, according to a May 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the most common problems were poorly controlled circulation and filtering systems and inadequate disinfection.
Ask employees about chlorine and pH levels, which should be checked at least twice a day. Chlorine should be in the range of 1 to 3 parts per million, and pH should range between 7.2 and 7.8. The water should have little odor and be clear enough to see the bottom of the pool easily.
Don’t go it alone. Try to always swim with a buddy or make sure that a lifeguard is on duty. Even expert swimmers can have water emergencies.
Stay hydrated. Bring enough water for drinking before, during, and after a workout. It’s easy to forget that you’re sweating when you’re in the water.