New report shows competitive swimmers can be cleverer

A new report reveals that swimming training can increase a young person’s ability to concentrate and learn at school. In particular, training stimulates the mind for up to three hours which can help to improve exam performance. Are Adolescent Competitive Swimmers Cleverer? has been written by Ian Cumming, CEO of Health Education England and Chairman of Swim England’s Swimming and Health Commission, and Sport, Health and Exercise Science academic Karl New from the University of South Wales.


The report is the first major academic review of the benefits of swimming on the academic achievement of young people, and shows the positive impact of regular aerobic exercise on academic performance. The findings show that short and long term effects of regular training increases the number of brain cells and connections between them. This leads to improved attention and accuracy in completing tasks and longer physical and psychological benefits including management of long terms conditions such as ADHD, obesity and dementia.


Ian Cumming, who is also a Level 3 Swimming Coach, said: “Although it has been known for some time that exercise generally has a positive impact on the brain, competitive swimming is almost unique in that it delivers the optimal amount and frequency of exercise to deliver the cognitive benefits. On top of this, it also provides the psychological components of being with a team, which is also very positive for young people.


“During training, swimmers are always thinking about what they are doing and trying to improve their technique. This means they are using both their brain as well as their muscles and stimulating all areas of the body. The findings in this report show there are both short and long-term benefits of this, which makes it extremely exciting.”


Ian was motivated to explore this area of work following a conversation with the headmaster of a high-performing secondary state school.


Ian explained: “A school teacher raised with me the observation that swimmers at his school were hard-working and perform highly academically. As a swimming coach and the parent of a swimmer, I know that swimmers are disciplined and organised, but I wanted to discover whether there was any scientific reasoning behind this.


“I was particularly surprised to learn about the academic benefits of maintaining swimming training during exam periods. This is in contrast to current approaches that see swimmers stop training. I’m keen to explore this further and share the findings with other swimming coaches and clubs.”


The report was launched at Swim England’s Annual Council Day. Jane Nickerson, CEO of the national governing body, welcomed the report and said: “This report provides evidence about the additional benefits of swimming for our competitive swimmers, which will be invaluable for our coaches, athletes and parents.


“We have always known that swimming is good for you in many different ways, but the publication of reports such as this and the recent Swimming and Health Commission report will have a real impact on people’s understanding and the guidance we provide.”


Duncan Selbie, Public Health England Chief Executive provided a foreword for the report, commented: “Competitive swimming clubs, like other sports clubs, can offer an environment where young people can learn about the good techniques for success in life such as goal setting, stress management and social interaction.


“Although the report focuses on competitive swimming, many of the benefits play out in recreational swimming and it provides an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how team sport, and swimming in particular, can improve individual’s health, and the health of the nation.”


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