John West survey says 30% of British adults haven’t been swimming in more than 10 years

Seafood brand John West recently carried out a survey of attitudes to swimming as part of its Get Yourself Shipshape campaign, which “aims to encourage people to make little and often changes towards healthy, active lifestyles”. The campaign also sees John West become title sponsors of the Great Swim Series.

While the vast majority of the 2,000 people questioned associate swimming with a healthy, active lifestyle, three in 10 haven’t been swimming in more than 10 years. In addition, almost two in 10 admit they can’t swim.

More positively, almost 90% agree it’s important for children to learn to swim as it’s a great form of exercise.

John West, through its partnership with Great Swim, aims to help raise the profile of swimming and encourage more people to take it up, as one change they can make towards a healthier lifestyle.

Jon Burton, Marketing Director at John West Foods says: “Get Yourself Shipshape is all about setting up healthy habits. When trying to work out a balanced lifestyle, most people know there are two main points to consider – how much exercise you do, and the diet you put into your body. However, research shows that people are still confused about how to live a healthy, active lifestyle – and swimming is a great place to start.”

Double Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington, who is supporting John West’s Get Yourself Shipshape campaign, says she’s surprised how many people in Britain are unable to swim, despite being aware of the many benefits of swimming.

“For many of us who were taught at a young age, it seems as if we’ve always had the ability,” she says. “But it’s easy to forget swimming doesn’t come naturally to many people and learning to swim in later years can be really daunting.”

Adlington urges potential swimmers to get in the water and persevere.

Below, we take a look at some of the reasons that discourage people from swimming the survey uncovered, and suggest how in several cases, outdoor swimming may help overcome some of those barriers.

Find out more about the John West Great Swim Series

The top 10 reasons people don’t swim according to the John West survey (and some suggested solutions)

1. I don't have the time

Difficult. Who should judge how another person uses their time? We all have 24 hours each day but many people have demanding jobs, responsibilities to other people as carers and hundreds of other competing interests. On the other hand, we do know that some people find swimming the perfect escape and respite from a stressful life-style. Swimming outdoors is particularly good for this. If more people could experience open water swimming, they may be more inclined to move swimming up their priority list of things they want to do. It’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes, if you’re really exhausted from work, a swim might help you feel better.

2. I only go swimming on holiday

Flippant answer: go on more holidays. Serious answer: show people that they can have brilliant, rejuvenating swimming experiences close to home (especially outdoors, of course). Anecdotally, we hear people who start the day with a swim outdoors (or indoors) say they feel like they’ve had a mini holiday, because it’s time for themselves.

3. Getting changed before and after is too much of a faff

Presumably people say this because they feel the benefits of swimming are outweighed by the hassles of changing. If they had more rewarding swimming experiences, the getting changed bit would feel like less of a faff. We’d recommend swimming outdoors for an enhanced swimming experience (but we would, wouldn’t we?). Swimming pools could do their bit by improving changing facilities. When you swim with friends, changing seems like much less of a faff because there’s time for a chat and banter.

4. I don't like wearing a swimming costume in public

We have a society-wide problem with idealised body images that makes people feel uncomfortable if they don’t conform, and many swimming costumes (both men’s and women’s) have unflattering designs. In the women’s swimming costume market, there are now brands making costumes designed to help people with a range of body shapes and sizes feel more comfortable. We also need to keep shouting about the fact that the outdoor swimming world is very welcoming and refreshingly unjudgmental – and there is always the option of wearing a wetsuit.

5. It's too expensive

Cost is definitely an issue, especially if you’re taking a family. Unfortunately, swimming in commercial open water venues isn’t the answer, as the price is similar or sometimes higher than swimming in a pool. Obviously there are many rivers, lakes and beaches where you can swim wild and free, which solves the cost issue provided you have access and you’re competent in managing the risks associated with those places. Wouldn’t it be great if swimming pools and venues could occasionally host “Swim for Free” days or “Swim for £1”? Bear in mind that a swim doesn’t cost much more than a pint of beer or a coffee and a croissant.

6. I hate being cold

We think the people surveyed are talking about swimming pools here, which we know many outdoor swimmers find strange as the more common complaint we hear is that pools are too hot! Guess what we think the solution is? Swim outside obviously. You can wear a wetsuit to keep you warm and once you’ve acclimatised, you’re unlikely to find swimming pools cold. Also, that feeling of cold only lasts a minute or two and you stop noticing if you keep moving.

7. I don't want people to see me in a bathing suit

This sounds like the same as number 4. Also remember, most people are too worried about themselves to pay too much attention to how you look in your bathing suit.

8. I get enough exercise in other ways

Getting exercise is not the only reason to swim. In fact, we think it’s a relatively low motivating factor. Swim for the joy of being in the water, to relax and feel better. Outside is better, of course. Also, swimming is a low impact sport so kinder on your joints, which makes it good to add it to the mix. Many people come to swimming after being injured from other physical activities and fall in love with it.

9. I can't be bothered

We thought this was a survey of adults, not grumpy teenagers. Joking aside, once you can overcome your initial inertia, swimming is so wonderful (especially outdoors), “I can’t be bothered” will be replaced by “I don’t want to miss out.”

10. I don't feel confident in the water any more

The boom in open water swimming and triathlon means many more adults want to learn to swim or improve. The market has responded and increasing numbers of coaches and teachers are offering lessons to adults either one-to-one or in small groups. We wouldn’t recommend starting in open water if you lack confidence, but once you’ve got a few lessons behind you, you might find swimming outside easier, especially if you wear a wetsuit that will give you additional buoyancy. Peer support is also incredible amongst open water swimmers. And it is a great feeling to improve at something.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.