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Swimming: A Proven Way to Improve Academic Ability

Written by Erika Schrothe

August 19, 2020

Over the years, many studies have been published regarding exercise and academic abilities. Much of what was concluded was that exercise does in fact help academic performance. But this was all generalized, as in any type of exercise or sport would help boost a child’s grades. For instance, if your child played soccer, they would have good grades, just as if he would play basketball, or she would play softball. However, research published in April 2020 has found that swimming is a bit different. Swimming does just a little bit more and kids that keep swimming end up quite academically accomplished.

So why is swimming different and what exactly does it do?

Swimming provides what is called bilateral cross patterning movements, meaning that the right and left side of the body are doing opposite movements. Think about swimming freestyle or backstroke. When one arm is in front of the head, the other arm is down by the side. These cross patterning movements help the brain develop nerve fibers between the hemispheres that “facilitate communication, feedback, and modulation,” according to Lana Whitehead, a lead swimming researcher in her pamphlet Water Smart Babies: Scientific Benefits of Baby Swim Lessons. The more both sides of the brain “talk” with each other, the more efficient neurological development will be. However, if there is poor interaction between the hemispheres of the brain, the slower language development, and academic learning will be. In addition to stronger neurological development, the water provides a gentle resistance that forces the body to work through it, thus further developing nerve fibers and muscle control and coordination. 

The neurological development that swimming provides literally sets children up for academic success. A 2012 study out of Griffith University in Australia found that kids who took year-round swimming lessons were approximately 20 months ahead in major milestones, compared with their peers within the same age group and socioeconomic status. This further breaks down to 11 months ahead in oral expressions, 6 months ahead in mathematical reasoning, 2 months ahead in brief reading, 17 months ahead in story recall, and 20 months ahead in understanding directions for the average 4-year-old. The benefits of swimming lessons further extends to better mathematical scores in elementary school. A study out of the United Kingdom in 2016 looked at 6400 children at ages 5, 7, and 11 years olds found those who participated in organized sports were 1.5 times more likely to “reach higher than expected levels in tests” compared with peers who did not participate in sports. And, kids who continue swimming into high school had 89.3% better than typical grades.

Swimming isn’t just conducive for neuro-typical children either. Kids with ADD/ADHD who swim show “improvement in ADHD symptoms and social functioning” according to a 2016 study. Kids with ADD/ADHD have issues with impulse control, processing speed, gross and fine motor skills, and academic achievement due to focus problems, and swimming addresses all these issues through the neurological and chemical responses in the brain. The best example of swimming benefiting kids with ADD/ADHD is Michael Phelps, who’s mother enrolled him in swimming after being diagnosed with ADHD at age 11. On a more personal note, my mother, in her infinite wisdom, had me swimming at age 3-4 just so I would sleep and stop annoying her (her words, not mine. Also, love you mom!). 

Me, age 7, probably annoying the photographer because I’m not in the water.

It doesn’t just stop at high school though either. Swimming at any age provides better blood flow to the brain. A study conducted by researchers from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom found that simply standing in the water chest deep significantly increased blood flow to the brain, which has been shown to increase cognitive function. (Our instructors might be geniuses!)

Swimming provides some amazing life long benefits and while good grades and socialization are incredibly important during childhood and adolescent years, the health benefits of swimming and exercise pay off in later years as well. If you want to give your child a head start in their education, sign them up for swim lessons. It’s fun, it teaches them a lifelong skill, and it sets them up for a future of academic success.

And for our shameless plug, we are offering Fynn’s Academy for the Fall. Fynn’s Academy is a 3-hour program, in which your child receives academic assistance with online learning by a certified Pre-K–12 teacher for 2 hours and 1 hour of free swim, thus fully linking academic skills with swimming skills. You can sign up for this online, at the front desk, or call us at 610-625-4848.

References and Additional Reading

Ian R. Cumming and Karl J. New – http://www.swimming.org/assets/Are-Adolescent-Swimmers-Cleverer.pdf

Griffith University – https://news.griffith.edu.au/2012/11/15/swimming-kids-are-smarter/

Lana Whitehead – https://www.swimkidsaz.com/pdfs/SwimmingBabies.pdf

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