The web has been abuzz the past 2 weeks over a study done in Finland in the UK with regard to new benefits of baby swimming. We all know the fitness benefits of swimming at all ages, but this new study finds that swimming at a very young age might have even more benefits for children as old as 5. Specifically, the study group showed better grip and balance versus a group that didn’t swim. The study was led by Hermundur Sigmundsson of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and Brian Hopkins of Lancaster University.
The children that were studied had participated in a 2-hour baby swim class from the time they were 2-3 months, until the time they were about 5 years old. Although the study was a very small sample size of only 19, Sigmundsson said that they “saw very clearly that baby swimmers were the best in exercises that related to balance and the ability to reach for things.” The researchers planned to expand the study to a larger group and see if they could confirm the results.
As I have a very limited background with the theories of physical development in children, I enlisted the aide of Cynthia Tiongco to help me to understand how imporant grip and balance are in children this age. She is an assistant professor at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Master of Occupational Therapy deparment.
When I asked about how important balance and grip are to a child’s development, Tiongco had the following to say: “As 4 and 5 year olds become more independent with their self-care, both balance and grasp are important (think about balancing while getting pants on, then having to button them and zip them up). Also, children learn by exploring their environment, and good balance is important for climbing jungle gym equipment, swinging, etc. Static balance, the subtest with the better performing swimmers, is a good indicator of core stability, which is important when considering maintaining upright posture in a chair during learning and classroom time. Grip and grasp are important as children start school and begin their major occupation of the next 13 years- school! Children with mature grasps and better prehension skills fatigue less when writing and coloring, and are better able to open packages (such as lunch containers), etc.”
Although the study found no “overall differences” in the development, and Tiongco said that a child should still be able to function fairly well without the improved grip and balance, she did say that she “thinks this study is a nice piece of literature to consider when looking at ways to help children develop, and another point of reference for therapists and others to use when considering recommendations to parents for fun family activities.”
Often, I am asked by parents when is the best age to start young children in swimming, and this study seems to indicate that there is no such thing as too young. Chalk up another one to the benefits of swimming.