Joining Dr Kay Cox's study to look at the effects of swimming and walking on women was the best thing Ros Clare and Trish Dicks had ever done.
"I couldn't swim 25 metres, and now I can easily swim a kilometre," Mrs Dicks (66) said. "From being someone who didn't swim very well, I now take myself off to an outdoor pool three times a week even in the middle of winter."
And for Ros Clare (69) swimming up to two kilometres where once she struggled with 150m has given her so much energy and vitality she's taken up volunteering along with her regular long swims.
"Many of the women who took part in the study were of ‘the polio generation'. When we were children we had to avoid groups for fear of catching polio. We weren't even allowed to go to the movies. It meant that many of us hadn't been taught to swim properly," Mrs Clare said.
Both women credit Dr Cox, from the School of Medicine and Pharmacology for helping them feel fitter and more energised than they had for years.
Dr Cox did research to examine the health benefits of swimming compared with walking and found that swimming is better than walking for fitness and weight control for older women.
Almost 120 sedentary women took part in the 12-month Perth-based study, with six months of randomly-assigned supervised 40-minute walking or swimming sessions three times a week, followed by six months of unsupervised exercise.
"Until now, very little research had been done on swimming and health. Swimming was assumed to have the same health benefits as other aerobic exercise such as cycling, jogging or walking, but was not thought to be helpful for weight loss," Dr Cox said. "This study demonstrates that swimming is effective in weight loss and maintenance, especially compared to walking.
"Knowing that exercise has health benefits is known to motivate people. And for overweight people, swimming may be a safer option, with less stress on the joints and muscles.
"Physical activity tends to decrease with age, and more so in older women. This is also the age group where women catch up to men in terms of the onset of heart disease symptoms. Therefore, we targeted this age group to attempt to change physical activity behaviour before an increasingly sedentary lifestyle could have lasting effects on their health."
The study, published recently in the international journal Metabolism Clinical and Experimental, also evaluated the women's lipids, glucose and insulin. It was found that compared with walking, swimming improved body weight, body fat distribution and insulin in the short-term and, in the longer term, body weight and blood fats such as cholesterol.
Both Mrs Dicks and Mrs Clare said that along with gaining fitness and an improved body mass index, they had made good friends through their involvement in the study.
"Some of the women involved couldn't swim at all, and Kay taught them," Mrs Clare said. "It was wonderful to watch them blossom. I have arthritis and swimming means I can exercise without stressing my joints."
"I was never overweight, but swimming has toned my body," Mrs Dicks said. "It's also given me a lot more energy for my grandmotherly duties!"