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Swim For Your Life

Take The Plunge Into One Of Cheltenham's Luxurious Pools For A New You! crack

How could the government save millions on the NHS budget? By creating conditions which keep young and especially the old healthy, but .... I began researching this article in the summer and suddenly swimming has hit the headlines. Free swimming is due to be cut for the under 16s and the over 60s. Perhaps the older group should be given priority as the risks of their lack of fitness is what will cost the most. When the back and the joints hurt and the breath gets shorter it is time to act.

‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ sings Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady about Audrey Hepburn. When it comes to the body men certainly seem simpler. If they live and eat reasonably their bodies seem to change very little. Some men aged seventy have a similar shape to when they were much younger. No woman could achieve this, no matter how much time she spends in the gym. And it’s all the fault of the hormones in later life. After a ‘certain age’ women suddenly look in the mirror and mumble ‘how did I get so square?’ In middle-age a lot changes for us. Our bodies put on fat in places where we had no places before. Diminishing hormones play havoc with the joints. Muscles around the middle won’t play ball any longer. We turn around and think ‘how did that happen?’

Today there is a growing number of women over ‘a certain age’ who would like to stay fit and healthy without putting strain on their joints or lifting weights. The Baby-boomers have now reached retirement age. After austere childhoods in the 40s and 50s the mantra of their daily lives was ‘work hard’, not ‘play hard’. So they did and now they want to enjoy a life free of work, but to make the most of this time a certain amount of fitness is a must.

Ladies of Cheltenham
In Cheltenham, contrary to popular belief, many women approaching retirement are cash poor. Former high-flyers over 50 now find it hard to find even a job in a shop at £6 an hour. They have become trapped in the no-man’s land of unspoken ageism in the jobs market, but are too young for a pension. Others are on a pension, but through divorce or widowhood, most of their money is in their houses. Both these groups nevertheless deserve to have some allowances made for them, as, no matter how small their spending power may be, they represent a sizeable group which could be an interesting and not altogether unprofitable clientele for the Cheltenham health and fitness clubs, and in particular for those with pools. I spoke to many women in this age group. For many of the Baby-boomers fitness training was something athletes or gym teachers did. These women don’t like to be on show as they perspire, get out of breath or groan in agony from their exertions so swimming is ideal.

I first looked at the swimming opportunities within walking distance of the town centre before finding out about those to which one would have to take the car or the bus. My work won’t allow me time to travel out of town for an hour’s swim, but many women in my age group could do so.

I went to talk to Nick, the manager of Fitness First in the Brewery. They are bang in the middle of town, ideally placed for women who come into the High Street to shop. Ladies can swim, get their hair done in the club, do their shopping, meet friends. I suggested to Nick that clubs were ‘missing a trick’ as well as missing out on more members.

‘We have a membership of around £30, he said. ‘It’s ideal for people who have time when others are at work.’ If one swims even just twice a week this is a really good deal.

‘This membership allows you to use all the equipment. ‘We can’t offer a swim-only membership as it’s impossible to control where people go once they walk in,’ Nick explained. He very kindly gave me a pass to try out the 20 meter salt water pool in the lower ground floor. It was recently refurbished and is very calm and restful with chairs, sauna, a steam room and hot showers.

Each time I went I had a choice of free lanes. It’s ideal for busy women. With all my deadlines I want to do twenty lengths, use their excellent changing rooms, dry my hair and be out in under an hour. For those who enjoy group activities there are also pool exercise and pilates, yoga, dance and other classes.

At Fitness First 22 year- old Abi Keirl explained which training equipment or classes would be suitable for the older age group of ladies. She was very enthusiastic about her job. ‘I used to work in an office,’ she said, ‘but I wanted to work here for a long time. It’s so varied and you come into contact with really nice people.’

Whilst there I bumped into a threesome on their way to the Fitness First swimming pool for a class with Veronica. One of them had recently had a joint replacement, the second one said she simply loved exercise, but couldn’t face the intimidating equipment. The third one likened swimming to dancing as an exercise. Once inside the stylish changing rooms I met two other ladies. ‘I’m 64,’ Margaret said. Although her face showed that she was no longer young, her body was slender, toned and mobile like that of a thirty-year old. Another regular and retired art teacher was of a more sturdy build, but thanks to frequent swimming she radiated health and strength. Again, neither of them want to spend time on treadmills and other apparatus. ‘The pool here is great,’ they all said. ‘It’s always warm, never crowded and so convenient for the shops.’ What about the pool at the Recreation Centre in Pittville, I asked them. ‘Oh,’ came the consistent reply, ‘I used to go there. It was free for us till now, but the floors were often not clean. There is too little supervision. Some kids are out of control around the showers and the changing areas.’

I also met Sandra over a cup of free coffee in the club’s lounge. ‘I had a very scary experience in the Pittville pool when two boys fell on me as I was swimming along. Well, I like to think that they fell,’ she added. ‘I thought I was going to drown, so I don’t go any more.’ I personally had no such experience, but when I went there people were allowed to walk around in street shoes where I had to be barefoot. I found myself standing under the shower between two bulky men in rather small swimming trunks sharing jokes about their ‘equipment’. This may well have been a very isolated incident, but if my teenage daughter had stood in my place I would have taken a dimmer view of it. So I began looking around for other pools.

The Ladies’ College Sports Centre has a beautiful 25 meter ozone pool, probably the best in town. Before you tut-tut about how posh you have to be to join, read on. The CLC Sports Centre membership, with the use of all facilities, is currently £43 for a single membership, but they offer an over-60s membership of just £38.70.

‘There are some periods for adult swimming only,’ Lisa Silver said when I spoke to her. ‘If someone is out of practice they can book one-off sessions to boost their swimming confidence,’ she explained, ‘and at certain times there is free or lane swimming.

‘All the timetables are on the internet so you can choose the best times for you.’

The over-60s membership seems a very good deal if you have the time to swim two or more times per week, especially if it is in such a beautiful pool.

Think for a moment how often you spend that amount of money on something with no benefit to your health at all.

The CLC Sports Centre also advertise special deals, such as a free month or a ‘no joining fee’ offer, so keep your eyes peeled or see their adverts at the back of this magazine. For timetables just google clc sports centre pool timetable and go to the bottom of the page.

The Barcelo Cheltenham Park Hotel sits on the Cirencester Road on the B bus route. The pool is splendid. Here too the monthly membership for the over-55s is currently £31.36 for off-peak membership (9am-4pm). There is a bolt-on rate if you already have a friend or family member with an existing membership. But there are other reasons for becoming a member at the hotel leisure club. Apart from the friendly atmosphere there are plenty of benefits such as hotel vouchers when you join, socials events where you meet people, a loyalty scheme, discounts on food and beauty treatments at the hotel. All that makes membership more than worthwhile.

Although Bowden Hall, with its health club and very pretty pool lies a little further away in Upton St.Leonards, it is within easy reach of Cheltenham by car. The manager Colin Badcock was very enthusiastic about my idea of a swim-only membership for older ladies. In a couple of days he came back to me with a proposition of a yearly membership of an unbelievable £150 (that’s just £2.88 per week) for restricted to pool times between 9-12 noon. I was very impressed by this. The pool is a little smaller than some others, but then there is the luxury of the surroundings, the extras and the opportunity to make new friends.

The current membership offers show that all health clubs in and around Cheltenham recognize that the older generations now represent a sizeable group who have to be catered for. Their special rates help to make better use of their facilities, but more importantly will help an older generation of women. Women have a choice – when they become unfit they are more likely to become unwell. Of course, if you just float along in the pool or hang on the edge to chat after each length there’s not much benefit. Swimming on a regular basis will strengthen muscles and reduce pressure on joints. Some say that swimming is not a ‘load-bearing’ sport and cannot ward off osteoporosis which can ruin so many women’s lives. But if you swim hard and treat it as exercise rather than bathing, it will imporve your cardio-vascular health and flexibility in later years. Spend £30-odd pounds per month now, don’t wait till it’s too late - and as they say – you’re worth it!

Current membership offers for the older generation in and around Cheltenham:
- Fitness First in the Brewery, over-55, off-peak around £30
- CLC (Ladies’ College Sports Centre), over-60s, £38.70
- Barcelo Cheltenham Park Hotel, over-55s, £31.36 off-peak
- Bowden Hall, Upton St.Leonards, £12.50, off-peak