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MAKING A SPLASH

14 Jul 2006

No matter how hard you try, there’s no escaping the fact that the summer holidays are just around the corner and once again, those immortal words, "I’m bored" will be heard reverberating around the crayon clad walls of many a happy home in Wales!

Yes, you may valiantly attempt to prise open the school gates in the waning hope that - by some unlikely miracle - six weeks will have passed and the time has come to pack the little ones off to school for another day.

However, that longed for September lifeline seems a lifetime away as - with a collective groan of trepidation - parents all over the country struggle to unearth new and exciting ways of keeping the family amused for the eternity that is that six-week holiday!

And so, to help sidestep the effects of a holiday hangover, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Sports Council for Wales are urging people of all ages to take a dip in the pool this summer in support of Health Challenge Wales –the national drive to encourage the nation to lead fitter and healthier lifestyles.

Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport, Alun Pugh encouraged young people to make most of the scheme this summer:

"Swimming is an enjoyable way to get fit and the Free Swimming scheme can also be a great introduction to all the other activities that your local leisure centre has to offer.

"With the Olympics coming to London in 2012, we can look forward to a renewed interest in sport at all levels. Who knows, some of the children taking advantage of our Free Swimming scheme now could be future Olympians."

Since its launch in summer 2003 – the first of its kind in Europe - the Welsh Assembly’s Free Swimming initiative has gone from strength to strength.

Offering free swimming sessions to children up to the age of 16 during the school holidays and to the over 60’s throughout the year, local authority pools have been teeming with eager swimming enthusiasts capitalising on the innovative programme.

It has even received the backing of Welsh Commonwealth Games champion and Olympic bronze medal winning swimmer, David Davies:

"This initiative is a great way to keep youngsters occupied during the summer holidays. Swimming is one of the best ways of keeping fit and it’s also good fun.

"When I started swimming, I never even dreamt of going to the Olympics. So who knows? We may see many more swimmers from Wales competing on the international stage."

People of all ages are again being encouraged to take advantage of the sessions this summer.

After walking, swimming is the second most popular sport in Wales. It is recognised as one of the safest forms of exercise and has a wide range of advantages from keeping you fit and healthy to something you can do on your own or as part of a group. Anyone can take part, from children and pregnant women to disabled people, making it the ideal ‘all round’ sport.

And while a trip to the pool can be a priceless distraction for weary parents of restless youngsters over the summer holidays, the adults themselves can take advantage of the host of benefits swimming provides.

Swimming offers a significant number of health benefits and is one of the quickest ways to improve general strength, stamina and cardiovascular fitness. It can also raise your energy levels, reduce stress and tension and help with weight loss.

It provides the best aerobic workout with the least amount of joint stress or impact and can burn up to 500 calories per hour.

Studies have also shown that a workout routine that includes swimming can help reduce and possibly prevent high blood pressure, which lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke.

And you don’t have to be a water sign in the zodiac to feel the meditative and healing properties of water. Swimming relaxes the body as it allows more oxygen to your muscles and forces you to regulate your breathing. It’s also a great way to relieve stress. Our bodies are made up of 60 percent water so it’s no wonder why some feel such a draw to the water!

"Swimming is an ideal form of exercise for all ages and abilities. Swimming is a sport that appeals to a cross section of people because, whether you’re doing an easy or hard workout, it doesn’t place too much pressure on the joints and keeps you fit and healthy at the same time."

So - want to take up swimming but don’t know how to get your feet wet? Sarah’s advice is to forget about record-breaking attempts and to start off slowly and build up your fitness gradually.

Also, if you have any existing injuries or asthma, consult a doctor to determine if you should swim and at what pace. If lengths aren’t your thing, try water walking, water aerobics or birthday pool parties for the children.

So dig out your swim suit and prepare to take the plunge into the pool playground!

For further information on the Welsh Assembly Government’s Free Swimming initiative, visit www.wales.gov.uk/freeswimming or to find out which leisure centres offer free swimming sessions in your area, contact your Local Authority’s Sports Development department.