Overcoming a fear of the water, learning to swim or developing a new swimming technique employs brain training, otherwise known as ‘neuroplasticity’. Neuroscientists developed the concept in the late 20th Century, prior to which it was thought that the brain became relatively static after childhood. Now it is known that the brain can remain changeable (‘plastic’) as we age. Of course, some ancient, pre-modern, cultures have known this for many centuries, such as through yoga.
Neuroplasticity is now commonplace in the treatment of stroke patients whereas only twenty years ago we thought that nothing could be done to regain use of limbs after a stroke. Now the results of neuroplasticity research are used with great success in post-stroke rehabilitation programs.
So, what’s this got to do with swimming you might say? It means that we can learn (or relearn) skills - such as learning to swim - at any age if we really want to; and allow ourselves to. Swimming instructors who appreciate this concept firstly teach the adult student to relax in the water and then take them though a process of structured repetitive activity in a stimulating environment. The brain thrives on stimulation and new challenges and exercise can often provide such an environment. That is why one of the best ways to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s is by brain stimulation through exercise.
Some of my friends who are of much the same antiquity as I know that I get annoyed by such sayings as ‘I’m too old to learn’ or ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. Absolute nonsense! Without wanting to embarrass them, I can point out a number of my students who have learned to swim into what we might call old age - whatever that means. So what do you have to do? The first step is the hardest and that is having the motivation to do it; and the next hardest part is making that first phone call. The rest is easy.