Swimming isn’t just fun. It’s also an excellent way to increase your fitness, help control your weight and improve your overall mood. Plus, swimming is exercise that people of any age and physical ability can enjoy. It’s easy on the musculoskeletal system while at the same time providing a good aerobic workout.
The governing body for all swimming-related activities in Britain (called the ASA) compiled a report of scientific findings from all over the world on the health benefits of swimming. Researchers have found that swimming regularly reduces men’s risk of dying early by a staggering 50 percent in comparison with those who run, walk or do no physical activity. Experts estimate that just two and a half hours per week of swimming can significantly reduce your risk of chronic disease.
A good all-around exercise, swimming involves both aerobic activity and working against resistance. Unlike most aerobic activities, however, swimming involves little in the way of jarring impact (like the shocks and jolts involved with running) and doesn’t require you to support your full body weight while doing it. When submerged up to your neck in water, your body weight is effectively reduced by 90 percent. As a result, overweight and obese people can get a good workout without placing large amounts of painful stress on the lower body’s muscles and joints. This removes a common deterrent to exercise for a large (and growing) part of the population and suggests that swimming could be an attractive option for people trying to manage their weight.
Arthritis sufferers or those with musculoskeletal injuries can also benefit from swimming, since studies have shown that it improves range of motion without causing a worsening of symptoms such as pain and stiffness. In fact, according to the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, swimming as a form of exercise (as opposed to running or practicing other impact sports) can reduce your risk of osteoarthritis.
Beyond increasing fitness levels and helping to manage weight, swimming may provide a variety of other health benefits:
- Studies performed on people suffering from fibromyalgia have found that exercise performed in a warm pool reduced anxiety and depression and caused an improvement in mood.
- For older adults, swimming has been shown to improve quality of life and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Post-menopausal women in particular are at increased risk of bone loss, and swimming provides a safe and effective form of the resistance exercise that is needed to maintain bone density.
- Pregnant women find that swimming strengthens their shoulder and abdominal muscles, which are put under increased stress during pregnancy. Obstetricians recommend swimming as a good form of exercise for most pregnant women, as it provides them with temporary relief from the extra weight they are carrying.
It’s hard to exaggerate the potential fitness benefits of swimming. Swimming helps to build cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and endurance. It tones your muscles and helps to maintain healthy heart and lung function. It also improves flexibility, reduces blood pressure and alleviates stress. Whether in a community pool, at a nearby lake or in the ocean, swimming offers an ideal way for most people to keep fit that’s also easy on the body’s musculoskeletal system.