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Can Swimming Make You Smarter?

6/10/2013

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Swimming is the best sport in the world… according to swimmers. We believe in those old-fashioned principals swimming supposedly cultivates: hard work, perseverance, dedication, stamina, etc.. But new research suggests that swimming, and swim lessons, can enhance a child’s development:

It can make you smarter.

Or at least it can help kids accomplish certain developmental achievements sooner.

Research surfacing from the Griffith Institute of Educational Research in Australia suggests that children involved in swimming lessons at an early age reach important milestones sooner than their non-swimming counterparts. According to Griffith’s study, language development, confidence, and physical development are all achieved sooner in “swimming kids.”

“Surprisingly their fine motor skills are well-developed,” Professor Robyn Jorgensen says. “One of the reasons we can theorize why that is happening, the teachers are always saying, ‘1, 2, 3, ready.’”

Many swim enthusiasts have long speculated the numerous health benefits swimming provides. Healthier lifestyles, better math and motor skills (despite the stereotype that swimmers are uncoordinated dodo birds on land), and a lifetime of non-impact exercise are just a few reasons people theorize why swimming is the best sport in the world. But with these reports from this study from one of the most swim-crazed nations in the world, Australia, there is some evidence to back claims that swimming actually makes you smarter. At least among younger children.

“It’s been a dream of mine to prove that children who start [swimming] lessons early … builds their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual capital,” says Laurie Lawrence of the Kids Alive Swim Program. “They’re smarter, they’re better coordinated.”

The study, published late last year, also says that the quality of swim instruction directly correlates to how much young swimmers gain from their lessons. This isn’t rocket science. Better teachers make better students. As a former swimming instructor, I’ve seen the effects of others’ great teaching, mostly during my duration at Imagine Swimming in New York City. Kids are more engaged with better swim instruction. They become better swimmers sooner. They enjoy the water more.

I’ve often thought about swimming’s health benefits beyond the obvious physical ones. It seems as though mental calculations involving interval training, pacing, and complicated sets results in better math skills. Not to mention the release of endorphins, resulting in a more tranquil state-of-mind. Or the gained self-confidence one has when completing a series of 200 butterfly repeats. Or the uncontrollable happiness that comes when seeing best friends every afternoon. Or the peaceful harmony one gains when floating, spinning, twirling, and splashing in the water.

As the academic world begins to scientifically discover reasons why swimming makes us feel and behave better, it’s nice to know that proper swimming instruction can actually aid to the overall development of children. Many swim enthusiasts have loudly speculated swimming’s benefits beyond the physical. Now, there’s some evidence to back these claims.

So the next time you’re in a debate about why swimming is the best sport in the world, you can say with some confidence, “Swimming can actually make you smarter.”