Swimming in Your Neighborhood Pool

Prácticas de Piscina By Asdrubal Velasquez (Visionado on FLICKR)


I rejoice when the weather is warm enough to swim! Swimming is one of the most healthful ways to exercise, and is broadly enjoyed by people of all ages, from babies to the aged. People can get into the pool and enjoy themselves so much that they don’t even know how much beneficial aerobic (heart-pumping) exercise they’re getting.

Aerobic exercise itself has important health benefits: it reduces harmful inflammation linked to many diseases; lowers stress; lowers blood pressure; strengthens muscles (including the heart), and can even help smokers to quit. In fact, swimming is one of the most highly-recommended types of aerobic exercises, according to Johns Hopkins exercise physiologist Kerry J. Stewart, Ed. D. In addition, it’s one of the best exercises for older adults, as it’s easy on the joints.

Most swimmers in Howard County don’t have access to natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, so we swim in the neighborhood pool, kindly supplied by Columbia Association, one of the neighborhoods in other towns, or by a private owner. The water in these pools needs to be carefully maintained for cleanliness, because the people splashing around bring bacteria into the standing water of the pool. The operators of these pools add chemicals to the water. Without chlorination, health risks would prevent our swimming in a pool.

Most pool operators maintain water cleanliness with chlorine-based chemicals, then test the water for the correct balance of pH (acid-alkaline balance) and chemicals several times throughout the day. Although several alternatives to chlorine exist, each has a disadvantage, including a substantial differential in price. So additions of chlorine seem to be the default choice for water cleanliness.

But chlorine use has its side affects: it’s drying to skin and hair, and may make swimmers’ eyes redden and burn. Some some people are undeniably allergic to chlorine; some people suspect chlorine of causing serious diseases of the respiratory tract or even cancer; but research on these serious side effects is not conclusive.

But (sniff) what’s that sharp smell? Smells like too much chlorine!

Actually, that smell is the result of inadequate amounts of chlorine. Here’s the science: molecules of chlorine combines with molecules of nitrogen or ammonia being thrown off our bodies (organic matter). This is what smells bad. Whenthere is more chlorine in the water, the chlorine can do its job and the odor should be minimal. It’s inadequately-chlorinated water that is most irritating to the skin and eyes, and may be implicated in swimmer’s ear, a common ear infection due to constantly-wet ear canals and bacteria in the water.

And why is the water so cloudy? It’s due to any combination of these events: particles forced out of the water by imbalanced water, poor filtration or sanitation, or heat. Hot days can contribute to cloudy water.

Unless there are other health-related risks, the health benefits, fun, and social value of swimming far outweighs the disadvantages posed by chlorine. One of the rites of summer is swimming, especially out of doors on a hot Maryland day.

The Center for Disease Control’s Triple A’s of Healthy Swimming go into depth on ways to keep everyone healthy when in the water. The most important and easiest of these include:

  • Staying out of the water if you are ill, especially illness of your digestive tract. Also stay out of the water if you have a cut or other break in your skin. Being aware of potential water-borne problems.
  • Showering before you swim to rinse off the organic materials on your skin. This way, you won’t be contributing to what the chlorine as to break down.
  • Regular bathroom breaks for children and adults are crucial. Urine, after all, in another organic material.
  • Protecting yourself with eye goggles, an after-swim shower, shampoo, and body moisturizer.
  • Questions to ask the pool operator: “Are chemical levels checked at least twice per day, or more often when the pool is heavily used?”, “What is the latest pool inspection score?”, and “Has the pool operator completed specialized training in pool operation?”Have a great swim!
Jean has recently retired from Howard County Library System. She also swims at four different Columbia Association pools each summer.

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