By Rowdy Gaines, Olympic Gold Medalist and Olympics Swimming Analyst

A lot of people know about my Olympic journey and the records that I set in swimming, but what many may not know about me is that I was diagnosed with a pretty rare disease called Guillan Barré Syndrome in 1991. This disease left me temporarily paralyzed and hospitalized for two and a half months. Some say without swimming and the great physical condition it left me in, I may not have made a full recovery.

Swimming opened up so many doors for me. Not only did it allow me to break world records and win three gold medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, even after many counted me out, but it continues to help me to lead a healthy lifestyle to this day.

Swimming can do incredible things for the body:

It keeps your heart rate up, but is low impact and takes a lot of stress off your body.

Swimming builds endurance, strengthens muscles, and helps with cardiovascular fitness.

You can maintain a healthy weight and keep your heart and lungs healthy.

Swimming improves balance, coordination, and flexibility.

Start Early

It’s incredibly important to start a physical fitness routine from an early age. Organizations like the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation are making strides to reduce obesity, especially in children, by encouraging positive lifestyle changes and healthy school curriculums. Aside from the many physical benefits swimming offers, it’s a great way to de-stress and clear your mind. Just make sure that before you start, you warm up and stretch, stay hydrated, and contact your doctor if it has been a while since you exercised.

Practice Water Safety

You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to start swimming and maintaining a healthier lifestyle, all you have to do is find a pool. But it is important to know about swimming and water safety before diving in. Since 2011, I’ve been working with The ZAC Foundation to promote its water safety awareness programs. I was honored to become their spokesperson in 2014. Since then I have worked with the Foundation to set long term, strategic goals and a vision, attended camps to help teach swimming lessons, and helped promote the Foundation’s mission of preparing children and their families for a lifetime of water safety.

During this summer pool season, I want to stress the importance of teaching ALL children to swim. Swimming lessons are, of course, important. When your child is ready, enroll them. But we also need to make sure children and their parents are water aware, which entails being aware of the everyday dangers of being near water.

Swimming has allowed for some of my proudest and favorite memories and experiences, and I encourage everyone to take up the sport and begin to live the healthiest lifestyle they can. I encourage you to follow these tips to ensure that your swimming experience is as safe and enjoyable as possible.