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movements like swimming activate both cerebral hemispheres and all four lobes of the brain simultaneously, which can result in heightened cognition and increased ease of learning. Recent studies have also shown that how much a person

BABY STROKES: Children who consistently swam from infancy were found to be significantly stronger and more coordinated than non-swimmers, when tested again at 2, 3 and 4 years old. Submitted photo

by Lana Whitehead, SWIMkids USA Swimming has been enjoyed since prehistoric times. It is a

fun, full-body exercise that’s easy on the joints and a great competitive sport. For children, it helps make them safer around water. But,

swimming is advantageous to kids for another reason – it benefits their brains. New research shows that a baby's brain develops through

bilateral cross-patterning movements like the movements done in swimming. Queensland University’s School of Nursing has used

swimming to help subjects diagnosed with dementia access their memories because the bilateral cross patterning move- ment aids overall efficiency in brain processes. For children, the more bilateral cross-patterning movements they do, the more nerve fibers develop in the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is a tract of 200 million nerve fibers

that connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain and facilitate communication, feedback and modulation from one side of the brain to the other. Cross-patterning

moves affects the size and memory capacity of the hip- pocampus. The hippocampus is a memory and learning area of the brain located in the medial temporal lobes. Art Kramer and his colleagues at the University of Illinois and the University of Pittsburgh discovered that people who move more, or “higher fit people,” have bigger hippocampi. They concluded that more tissue in the hippocampus equates with increased ability in certain types of memory. Scientific studies of young swimmers at the German Sports

College of Cologne, Germany, have shown that early water movement develops children in three key areas: physically, mentally and emotionally. As compared with a control group which did not take year-round lessons, the children who swam consistently from infancy, around 3 months old, were significantly stronger and more coordinated when tested at 2, 3 and 4 years of age. Those children also scored higher for intelligence and

problem-solving, which carried over into excellence in acade- mic achievement. Emotionally, they were found to be more self-disciplined with greater self-control and an increased desire to succeed. From consistent goal setting and skill achievement in swimming, they rated higher in self-esteem. Finally, the early swimmers were more independent and

comfortable in social situations than the control groups. Earliest learning is stimulated by reflexes which develop

into movement exploration. When the exploration experi- ences are repeated, nerve pathways are created. These new nerve pathways set down intricate neural networks that direct a child’s higher level brain development. The more plentiful and diverse the experiences, the more complex patterns for

June 2012 5 Learn to swim ... swim to learn

memory, learning and reasoning will be established. Research in Australia has also demonstrated that early par-

ticipation in swim lessons can accelerate a child’s cognitive development. Starting in 2009, Griffith University embarked on a 4-year Early Years Swimming Research Project with 45 swim schools across Australia, New Zealand and the United States. The preliminary results shows that children, younger than 5, involved in learn to swim are more advanced in their cognitive and physical development than their non-swim- ming peers. The results also show minor benefits to social and language

development. In 2011 researchers in Melbourne, Australia reported intellectual and physical benefits for early swim lessons. The scientists determined that children who were taught to swim by age 5 had statistically higher IQs. The research also showed that moving in high water resistance strengthened the child’s muscles more rapidly than playing on the floor because swim- ming activates more large muscle groups. In a longitudinal study, Dr. Liselott Diem and her col-

leagues reported that children who took part in baby swim lessons from the age of 2 months to 4 years, were better adapted to new situations, had better self-confidence and independence than non-swimmers. In swim class the child cooperates within a social structure to take turns, to share and to cooperate. This fosters a sense of belonging, which builds self-esteem and develops social confidence. In addition, recent studies conducted at Norwegian

University of Science & Technology with Dr. Hermundur Sigmundsson and his colleagues found baby swimmers developed better balance, movement and grasping tech- niques than non-swimmers. This difference persisted even when the children were 5 years old.

Lana Whitehead is founder of SWIMkids USA in Mesa.

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