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    You are here : Home » Get Involved » MSRC Interactive » Help, Advice and Inspiration from people with MS » What Has Helped You » Exercise » Regular Swimming

    Regular Swimming

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    In the Swim - Mike Taylor
    Mike TaylorEver since I can remember I have loved water. At the age of three, much to the horror of my mother, my uncle threw me in at the local pool and I simply swam to the ladder with a big grin on my face. From that moment I never looked back. I was never trained to swim, it came naturally. At school I swam for the Midlands in the 100m. That was as far as I liked to go.

    At that time, I didn't like cold water. If the pool was cold, I would win every time, basically because I wanted to get out! Now, cold water makes me feel so good I have a cold bath every morning. As well as swimming, before MS, I loved anything to do with water - windsurfing, water skiing and scuba diving.

    After 10 years with MS I am quite frankly incredibly bored with it and want my life back - sooner rather than later. I am now reliant on a wheelchair, I get fatigue and have a weak bladder - sounds familiar eh! So anyone reading this would imagine my life has changed dramatically. On the obvious level yes it has, but on many other levels it hasn't. I still live my life to the full, love to laugh and, most importantly, love the company of positive people.

    A Nice Cool Dip

    Life can, and often does, take a cruel twist. One day whilst sunbathing I got really hot. My MS symptoms were exaggerated and I needed to get cool. My girlfriend dragged me to the bath full of cold water where after only a few minutes my symptoms went away. Yikes!

    Cold water is always good for me! A combination of being vain and wanting to stay fit led me back to swimming and to "Tooting Bec Lido", the largest pool in Europe - 100 yards long, outdoors and unheated. Perfect!

    When I hit the water something quite magical happens. It's like being free. I used to, and still do, love swimming to the bottom of the pool, spinning and twisting as I go, a freedom I don't have on dry land any more.

    Helpful Floats

    However, trying to swim with very little use of my legs was a problem. Front crawl is my stroke and it's one I am comfortable with. But even after only a few strokes my legs would start to sink and before long I am swimming standing up.

    I got myself a pool boy (a dog bone-shaped swimming float that you put between your legs). This keeps my legs parallel to my body and it's up to my top part (my arms) to propel me along - my legs simply follow! I have tried breaststroke with the float but it's hard work. Imagine a pendulum and that's exactly the effect the float has on the body. As long as my head is in the water it's the perfect balance, allowing me to breathe too.

    But with normal breaststroke your head needs to be up, you are fighting that buoyancy and also compacting your lower back. However if you like breaststroke I wouldn't be defeated by this. What you need is buoyancy further up your body. A short wet suit just may do the trick. Also you will find it easier in the sea with the added buoyancy the salt water gives you.

    For me, when I'm in the sea, I replace the float with wet suit shorts. This does the same job without the worry of it popping out in the rough water. I do get fatigued but the cold water does help relieve it to a degree. A good snooze helps too. At first I would swim one length and have a rest. I don't think this is all down to my MS, as many people have to rest a little after one length of the lido. Before long one length turned into two, then three and before long I was swimming a mile and then the English Channel!

    The sense of achievement is massive and the all-around workout my body and mind get is addictive.

    Mike Taylor - swimming

    As good as this sounds, doing these swims and having MS is so frustrating. Like with everything in life with MS, I am being held back and can only do the best I can. Being a competitive sort of person doesn't help either.

    There's a guy I used to train with who I always used to beat. Then, last year, he started beating me and was very pleased to tell me so. I said to him, "Yes, but you use your legs", thinking that would make him feel a tad inadequate. He replied, "Yes I know, that used to worry me. But now, a win's a win!" What a great answer. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Mike Taylor's Swimming Tips

    I would recommend swimming to anyone - MS or not. The sense of freedom is wonderful and it's not weight-bearing. You are exercising, even if you are only lying on your back and using your arms to stay afloat. Getting your heart working and pumping the oxygen around your body has got to be good for you.

    If you're not confident in water then make sure you are with someone or stay in the shallow end or near the sides.

    Don't push it - set yourself achievable goals. They will give you a sense of achievement when you attain them and a feeling of progress.

    As for water temperature that's up to you, whatever you feel comfortable with.

    Mike's Swimming achievements

    • All in relay form. Five able-bodied swimmers and him, each swimming an hour in rotation.
    • The English Channel, 21 miles
    • Loch Lomond, 22 miles
    • Majorca to Menorca, 25 miles
    • Catalina Island to the famous Bay Watch beach in Santa Monica, 38 miles (3 times)

    Read more about Mike's Venture, "Turning the Tides on MS".

    Leonie McCaughan - Water is wonderful stuff
    Did you know that you can do all sorts of exercises in water? It holds your body up while you're walking backwards or forwards or sideways.

    One of the regulars I see at the pool during my three-times-a-week swimming exercises said to me, “We don't know one another well, but we have recently moved here and have joined a walking group. Would you like to join too?”

    As we only ever met in the pool, she did not know - how could she? - that I can actually swim further than I can walk!

    Water exercises

    While exercising, I slowly jog in the water with one hand gliding along the edge of the pool. While in the deep end, I wear a ‘jogger belt’ (a polystyrene belt which clips on around waist).

    But I swim too!

    I mainly swim backstroke with just a few lengths of freestyle. I manage about 300-400m before it's time to rest. I rest (believe it or not) clasping my hands behind my head and just lying in the water and floating along, prior to climbing out with help from the poor attendants.

    After showering and dressings, its home for a hot drink, feet up for a short while then on with the day.

    My water exercises and swimming takes up three mornings a week. The commitment is worth every minute because it keeps me on my feet and maintains the limited muscle strength I have not.

    Cool, cool water

    The cool, 26 degree water does wonders for periodic head pain and calms down the tingling limb, fingers and toes.

    I also get to meet a lot of people too: the guy with polio, a woman with severe rheumatoid arthritis, two ladies with hip replacements, a fellow with one leg, a young mum with a back injury that she's trying to improve and the guy who is almost blind.

    All the ‘super swimmers’ and those training for some event use the other lanes, while all of us use our own two lanes. We all wave as we do our various workouts and thoroughly enjoy ourselves and the interactions with one another. The pool has various ‘challenge’ events which I have a go at although I never win but I enjoy participating, as do most of the others!

    One funny thing I must mention! A couple of months ago, a woman at a bus stop, which we passed on the way into town, waved to me. I returned the greeting thinking “Who was that?”. The following Friday, one of my pool buddies said to me, “You looked a bit confused when I waved to you the day.” “Oh,” I said, “I didn't recognise you dressed in street clothes.” Because we where goggles, we decided this was quite a good disguise. We had a good laugh about it!

    © Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre

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