Royal Life Saving New South Wales launches Swim Ready initiative to keep  Australians safe while swimming


A lifeguard watching over swimmers at Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Christopher Crouzet

Australians aged 45 years and over are being encouraged to consult their doctor before enjoying the health benefits of swimming to prevent drowning deaths involving people with pre-existing conditions.

Royal Life Saving New South Wales (NSW) together with the NSW Government has launched a Swim Ready initiative to educate and raise awareness among people aged over 45 years about the link between the use of medication and an increased risk of drowning.

Over the past 17 years, 843 people aged 45 years and over lost their lives to drowning in NSW. Of these, 55% involved people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, mental health and dementia.

All medication has possible side effects that can have an impact on exercise. This can put people at higher risk of drowning when participating in aquatic activities. For example, dizziness, fainting, chest pain, headaches, confusion, blurred vision and muscle pain, can all affect a person’s capacity to stay safe in water.

Royal Life Saving NSW says a few simple steps can save lives. Before heading to the pool, it suggests that people should:

  • Consult their doctor about their health
  • Consider the effects of any medication they are taking
  • Swim in supervised areas, such as local aquatic centres.

“More and more Australians are enjoying the health benefits of swimming later in life. Our Swim Ready initiative highlights our commitment to encouraging active lifestyles while ensuring everyone stays safe while they are in the water.” Michael Ilinsky, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Life Saving NSW. 

As people age, changes occur in the way their bodies process medications, and the benefit/risk profile of a medication can change.

Chronic medical conditions are more common in ageing populations which means older people are more likely to be prescribed several medications. Multiple drug interactions can be complex and can increase the incidence of side effects in older individuals, which can increase the risk of drowning in this group.

Drowning data from 2008/09 to 2017/18 suggests that, for unintentional fatal drownings in older people, an estimated 36% were taking some form of medication or drug. Of these, 65% of drownings involved multiple drugs.

Health Benefits of Swimming

Physical activity in the later years of life is essential to promote a healthy ageing process and independent functioning. Swimming has been shown to help prevent or manage many chronic diseases, as well as improving overall physiological and psychological health including;

  • ALLEVIATES stress, and improves general mental health and wellbeing
  • IMPROVES cardiovascular fitness and health
  • HELPS to maintain a healthy bodyweight
  • INCREASES respiratory capacity and function
  • BUILDS endurance, muscle strength and tone
  • IMPROVES immunity and decreases inflammation
  • KEEPS joints flexible
  • IMPROVES coordination, balance and posture.

With a warm summer predicted, Royal Life Saving is encouraging all Australians to utilise our wonderful waterways. Michael Ilinsky added, “It is important that we embrace and engage with our aquatic environments in pursuit of healthy and active lifestyles.  Our aquatic environments provide unique opportunities for people and communities to come together which contributes to a stronger, more socially inclusive society.”

For many ageing Australians a trip to the pool is a foreign experience. The skills of yesteryear may not be what is necessary to undertake increased aquatic participation.

Michael Ilinsky said, “A trip to the local pool is a great way to reacquaint yourself with aquatic recreation. Make it a family occasion or meet up with friends. Our wonderful community assets (public pools) are underutilised yet provide so many physical and mental health benefits.” 

Remember before heading to the pool or away on holidays to an aquatic location consult your doctor about your health and the impact prescribed medications may impact activity in or around water. Also ensure you swim in a supervised area such as your local public pool.