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HEALTHWATCH : Guide for Getting in Swim of Things


It's almost a sure thing at this point. With Memorial Day weekend coming up, and summer closing in fast, it will be virtually impossible, no matter how hard you try, to avoid getting thrown into some physically demanding, outdoor activity.

But many of you probably have not ventured too far from home since the end of last summer. Those muscles are kind of stiff, the athletic equipment--and the joints--are a little rusty, and you can't quite recall those childhood lessons about the great outdoors. Here, then, are a few tips.


Whether it's in the shallow end of the back-yard pool, or the depths of the ocean, county residents will be seeking the cool comforts of water. Unless you're a fish, there are some things you ought to consider before you get in over your head.

First, pool swimming.

Marcia Grambling, aquatics coordinator for the Ventura Parks and Recreation Department, said no matter how advanced a swimmer you are, you should never swim alone. "So one person always knows where the other one is," she said.

It goes without saying that swimmers should also be able to see where they're going. But let's say it anyway. "Always swim in a well-lit pool," said Ingrid Daland, who has a swim school in Thousand Oaks. "Don't swim in a pool where you can't see the bottom."

Daland also warned against swimming in a pool that is partially covered. She said someone could swim under the cover and get trapped. The same risk exists with large air mattresses floating in pools.

Swimming in a pool is one thing. Swimming in the ocean, where water conditions can vary dramatically, is quite another.

For one thing, swimmers should be wary of rip currents--waves that have hit the shore and are returning, en masse. "They can be spotted pretty easily, because the water is choppy and usually brown (from freshly acquired silt and sand)," said Eric Bear, head lifeguard for the city of Port Hueneme.

Most rip currents aren't a problem, but some can be quite troublesome. "If people get caught in them they sometimes panic," Bear said. "That's the worst thing you can do."

Instead, said Bear, swimmers should either ride out the current or swim parallel to the shore to get out of it. "Do not swim against it," he said. "Always sideways to the shore, until you're back in relatively calm water." Even if the water is calm, it's likely to be cool. Bear said Ventura County ocean waters rarely get warmer than 65 degrees, even during the summer. Hypothermia--a severe lowering of body temperature--can be a problem under these conditions.

"It can happen in as quickly as 20 minutes," he said. "If you start feeling dizzy or get chattering teeth, it's time to get out and warm up for awhile."

Endurance Activities

If you're planning a long bike ride, hike, or some other strenuous activity, common sense plays a key role. Be cautious.

First of all, plan ahead.

"It's important in terms of routes, locations, letting somebody know where you are going and when you are going to be back," said Brad Childs, president of the Agoura-based Wilderness Institute. "During the hotter summer months it might be good to plan using trails along the coast to get that gentle ocean breeze or along streams."

Specifically regarding hiking, Childs suggested that beginners find a popular, well-marked trail. The more popular ones, he said, "are generally wider trails, fairly flat and probably have a good scenic vista."

No matter where you hike, or bike, beware of dehydration. Be sure to bring along a sufficient supply of liquid.

"Depending on how hot it is, (people) should carry as much water as they can," said Dale Hayden of Michael's Bicycles in Newbury Park. Most bikes, he said, can carry two quart-sized bottles. He suggested taking an additional quart or more on you.

As far as edible items, Childs suggested bringing along light-weight foods containing plenty of carbohydrates for energy. "Another thing is fructose," he said. "Fruit sugar energy--fruit bars, dried fruits."

Hayden said he and his riding buddies take along a complex carbohydrate powder to mix with their water. "It helps you maintain an energy level so you don't burn out," he said. "So after a couple of hours of riding you can continue on, feeling comfortable."

And don't forget the first aid kit: blister prevention items, bandages, gauze, scissors, a cold pack, maybe even a splint.

Now go enjoy the outdoors.

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