Of all the exercises you could be doing, there are none that are as well-rounded in general health and full-body benefits as swimming. There is far more to this powerful cardiovascular workout than meets the eye, and medical practitioners, as well as fitness trainers, have long recognized its wealth of beneficial effects. If you’re looking for an alternative or a supplement to pounding the treadmill, dodging traffic on your bike or lifting ever heavier weights (not that there’s anything wrong with any of these exercises) or if you’re a little out of shape and are looking for a good entry into the active life, here is why you need to consider swimming:
Technically, swimming is regarded as a cardio exercise, putting it in the same league as running, cycling or rowing. These are exercises that not only improve your lung and heart health, but they also increase stamina and general vitality. Indeed, swimming is an excellent cardio exercise, but it goes beyond that. A 2016 study showed that swimming doesn’t only improve heart rate, breathing, and circulatory health, it also helps to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Swimming also stands out from the other cardio exercises in that it is gentle and low impact. That means that your bones and joints are not taking a knock with every movement.
As an adjunct to its general cardiovascular benefits, swimming also strengthens the lungs, expanding their capacity and improving our ability to control our breath. This can even have benefits for asthma sufferers, helping them to manage their conditions as a result of concerted and regular swimming training. Heavily chlorinated swimming pools can tend to offset this benefit, however, but it stands nevertheless. If you have access to a salt pool or even a tidal pool on a beach - or better, yet a pool with a retractable roof where the air remains fresh and clean - you will eliminate the risk of bad reactions to chemicals and get the full benefit of the lung workout.
In addition to cardio, swimming also offers one of the best full-body toning workouts you can get. It exercises every major muscle group, and can build strength as well as definition. Again, it does all this without putting any strain on your musculoskeletal structure. What’s more, swimming helps us target muscle groups that we wouldn’t usually exercise. In the act of swimming, the limbs stretch and reach to an extent that they wouldn’t in normal life, or even with other exercises at the gym. The lats, deltoids, and inner core muscles all get a good workout when we swim and these muscles are vital for good posture and overall strength. In this way, you can also improve your flexibility, making swimming a valuable stretching exercise that keeps you limber throughout your life.
There is ever more evidence to suggest that swimming actually has a positive effect on bone density. In experiments done on different groups of mammals, it was found that one group, which was made to swim regularly, showed increases in bone mineral density (BMD) and femoral bone weight, as opposed to the control group, which showed no change at all in these variables. This would appear to indicate that the mere act of swimming on a regular basis actually strengthens your bones and makes them heavier and denser.
Building strong swimming skills could literally lead to a life being saved – your own or someone else’s. If you find yourself needing to move in the water in an emergency, your acquired swimming skills, as well as the accompanying improvements in breath control and cardiovascular health, will certainly put you in a good position. You could swim to safety or even rescue someone else. The improved lung capacity that comes with regular swimming could even stand you a better chance of survival in situations that don’t involve water, say where you’re at risk of smoke inhalation.
If you or anyone you know is over the age of 60 and looking to stay or get in shape, there is no better exercise to recommend than swimming. Because of the reduced weight and increased resistance it offers, as well as the absence of strain and impact on muscles and joints, swimming is a gentle yet challenging exercise that will pull older bodies into shape without the risk of injury. Also, it is friendly to people of all fitness and ability levels. Take it slow with a couple of lengths of gentle breaststroke, or push your limits with 20 laps of butterfly, if you are able to. Either way, you will feel the benefits.
Swimming is a little like martial arts, in that, when it is mastered, it offers a deeper sense of mastery over one’s environment and the potential threats in it. Just as martial arts teaches us to face and defuse a physical threat, so swimming teaches us to overcome a fundamental human fear – that of drowning. As we develop swimming strength, on a deeper level, we experience a sense of power and security and confidence. Together with the physical strength that long-term swimmers acquire, this is a deep confidence booster, which spills over into other aspects of our lives.
It could be said that swimming even makes us smarter. It appears that water exercises improve blood flow to the brain. In fact, we don’t even need to swim to get this effect; apparently, just standing in water up to the chest increases cranial blood flow by up to 14%!
The added weight experienced during pregnancy can put a strain on joints and bones and, therefore, make exercise very difficult. Getting in the water for a bit of swimming or water aerobics can help with this, because of the added buoyancy, which takes much of the weight off the legs and hips.
Swimming has also been known to alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). This, again, is a function of the buoyancy and light resistance offered by the water. Another study showed that MS-sufferers who took part in a 20-week swimming program, showed improvement in the physical symptoms, as well as a reduction in the accompanying fatigue and depression.
Swimming has been shown to improve sleeping patterns, particularly in older people. While this is true of all aerobic exercises, swimming – as we have seen above – is one of the most desirable forms of aerobic exercise. Getting a good swim in on a regular basis will help you to sleep.
All exercise is known to improve mood and emotional state, but swimming especially so. In addition to the effects of the exercise itself, the simple act of being in the water can have an excellent effect on our mood. It is refreshing and invigorating. And, it gets the blood flowing throughout the system - from head to toe. This simply leads to feelings of greater vitality, which, in turn, boosts a sense of contentment and drive, and it relieves stress. Swimming has actually been shown to lower anxiety levels considerably, and only a light, easy swim is needed to yield this result.
With swimming, you have access to experiences you may never have otherwise attempted. If you master the swimming pool and you grow confident in your ability to swim well over long distances, maybe you want to take a chance at ocean swimming, take part in a race or even cross a major lake or dam. The mastery of swimming basics opens all these possibilities up to you. Experiences such as these boost your sense of confidence and wellbeing even more, so that a positive feedback loop forms, which is extremely good for mental health.
As we’ve already mentioned, the elderly can really benefit from swimming. It is vital for older people to keep active in order to prolong their lives and improve their quality of life. Because of all the benefits, we’ve already run through, swimming is the perfect regular exercise for senior citizens. It is accessible to people of all fitness levels and ages (its benefits for muscles, bones, the cardiovascular system, and mental health have already been touched on), and it is fun. Part of the problem with retirement is that it so easily lapses into a sedentary routine and boredom. Swimming offers physical exercise, a chance to socialize and daily, weekly and monthly goals to meet and exceed. It keeps the heart beating, keeps the mind active and strengthens confidence and improves self-esteem. It is also easily accessible to pensioners, as a good swimming pool or swimming beach can be easily accessed without expensive membership fees.
In fact, some medical researchers have gone as far as to claim that swimming actually reverses the effects of aging. With the improved blood circulation, muscle tone, heart and lung function, and better mental and emotional status, swimmers have a tendency to be younger in physical terms than their less aqua-friendly peers. It really is the fountain of youth! Even more, a study conducted at the University of South Carolina followed a sample of 40.547 men over the course of 32 years. It was found that the swimmers among them had a 50% lower death rate than those who regularly walked, ran or did little or no exercise.
So, you’ll lower your stress, build strength, tone your muscles, increase your lung capacity, improve your cardiovascular system, and possibly even turn back the clock a bit. You can do all this while having fun, possibly competing, if that’s what you want, enjoying some alone time, or making it a sociable activity. Swimming is a health and vitality booster par excellence. That’s as good a final word as any in an argument defending the benefits of swimming. All we can say now is why aren’t you in the water already?
One objection that many people have against swimming is that it is a seasonal activity, in which they can’t indulge for at least half the year. This is certainly not the case now, however, although it may once have been. With pool heating systems and retractable roofs or skylights that bring swimming pools indoors, you can swim all year round. Contact us to find out more.