Nov 08, 2023

Active Adults campaign wants you to know you’re never too old for water safety


There’s a new water safety campaign that’s making waves with older Australians as it hopes to highlight the importance of water safety for people over 65 – including boat-loving fishermen and keen swimmers.

Active Adults is a campaign steered by Royal Life Saving NSW to encourage participation in aquatic activities, while also recognising the risks of being in and around the water.

Key points

  • 21% of all drownings in Australia involve persons aged 55 or older
  • There has been a 57% increase in drownings amongst adults aged 65-plus over the past ten years
  • The leading cause of drowning deaths in the 65-plus demographic over the past 12 months (for NSW) were swimming and recreation (32%), fall (16%) and boating (9%)
  • Fitness often plays a part with 67% of people over 55 self-reporting as insufficiently active or inactive

For all those reasons and more, RLS wants to see more regular exercise based around water activities, including swimming, hydrotherapy, kayaking or boating. Even tai chi or walking by the beach is encouraged to truly tap into the mental and social health benefits of exercise. 

Royal Life Saving NSW Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Michael Ilinsky, said its priority is to prevent older people from drowning and to reinforce the positive benefits of keeping active while ageing.

“Participation rates show older Australians are highly motivated to stay connected with their communities, however, 75% of people over 65 are under-active. We want people of all ages and abilities to be ready to enjoy the summer,” he said. 

“The Active Adults campaign will ensure we’re providing appropriate water safety education to keep people active, social and safe.”

The NSW Government has also jumped on board the campaign with the State Minister for Seniors, Jodie Harrison, outlining the importance of staying safe near the water.

“We know that when we focus on water safety in young people, we get results, with a 33% decrease in drowning deaths in 0-4 year olds,” Minister Harrison said.

“By partnering with Royal Life Saving NSW on this campaign, the Government wants to amplify the message that water recreation is a great way to stay active and fit, while emphasising that water safety must remain top of mind for people of all ages, especially for our seniors.”

“There’s been a concerning increase in drowning deaths in older people and we want to make sure our seniors can enjoy the water safely – whether it is participating in watersport or simply walking around it,” she added.

What you can do to keep safe

RLS has outlined five simple tips to help older people enjoy aquatic recreational activities, whether it’s swimming, walking or surfing.

  • Share the fun with someone: Taking a friend or family member to the beach or pool means you have someone who can raise an alarm or find help quickly in case of an emergency. If you don’t have anyone who can come, make sure you go to a patrolled area and check in with lifesavers or other swimmers regularly. 
  • Wear a lifejacket when on the water: No matter how old, it’s important to wear a lifejacket while you’re on a boat, kayak or canoe. Even experienced swimmers should wear one as it may help them assist someone else who is not a strong swimmer. 
  • Check in with yourself: Talk with your GP about medications that could cause drowsiness and impact your stamina in the poo, and how your mobility and fitness may have changed since you last exercised. You want to start at an activity level you’re comfortable with.
  • Watch your step around water: Roughly one in six drownings are the result of a fall, so it’s important to wear appropriate footwear and watch where you step when walking around water.
  • Know your limits and avoid taking risks: While it’s essential to keep fit while ageing, remember to not push yourself and take risks. For example, if you’re an experienced surfer or kneeboarder, you might find your upper body strength has decreased. Instead of paddling out into deep ocean water, consider swimming laps in a pool or kayaking.

Water safety is not just for the beach

A key feature of Royal Life Saving’s Active Adults campaign is falls prevention. We know many older people spend time at the local pool, swimming club or in the pool at home as they fit in up to five hours of exercise per week. 

Older people just beginning or returning to a fitness journey may be at a higher risk of falling or slipping over, while even experienced swimmers could be at risk if they fall by the pool. It’s essential to follow RLS’ seven steps to preventing a fall around the water, which are:

  1. Keep physically active
  2. Strengthen your legs and feet
  3. Ear well and maintain a healthy diet
  4. Watch out for slippery surfaces or unstable banks
  5. Stay mentally alert around the water 
  6. Wear suitable footwear
  7. Check in with your GP

For more information make sure you visit the Drowning Prevention website here for a wide range of resources and links to local pools and exercise programs targeted at older Australians.

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