The Benefits of Swimming
(and other aquatic sports)
Swimming has long been considered one of the most “perfect” sports because of its low injury rate and the amazing benefits of swimming, regardless of one’s age or ability. While injuries do occur in the sport, they tend to be associated with the very highest levels of competition or are due to a swimmer not performing the strokes correctly. (All the more reason to get a
Why is swimming better?
- Buoyancy: Because people naturally float in the water, the impact on the joints is reduced dramatically, which means even someone with an injury that would normally prevent him from performing many land exercises may still be able to enjoy water sports without any problems.*
For example, I played soccer until high school and then I tore my ACL (ligament in the knee). I began swimming and in less than four years, I was a CIF champ! So even though I may never be comfortable running again, that didn’t stop me from achieving a very high level of competition in swimming.
- Water Temperature: I don’t know a place where you can control the temperature of the air, but you CAN often control the temperature of the water. Therefore, if you are prone to heat stress, working out in colder water can be refreshing and rejuvenating. Whereas, working out in warmer water can stimulate blood circulation, promote healing of injuries, and relax muscles. Can your gym’s air do that?
- Water Resistance: Unlike air, water is a constant source of resistance, and though aiding us through buoyancy, it still requires more work to move through than air. But the stress of the movement is shifted away from the weight-bearing joints to the actual muscles. This means any movements done in the water can be both aerobic and anaerobic (think lifting weights and running at the same time but without the stress on your body!) And because water resistance can be controlled by the participant’s level of intensity, workouts can be customized to meet the needs of any age or ability.
What are the health benefits of swimming or other aquatic exercise?
- Cardiovascular Endurance: Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest killers in America. This disease is linked mainly to a lack of exercise and poor eating habits, both of which can contribute to the hardening of arteries, which are responsible for bringing oxygen and nutrients to the heart. ANY kind of cardiovascular exercise has been proven to lower the risk of heart disease and strengthen the heart and the body.
Unfortunately, many of the people who need to exercise the most are the ones who are sidelined by other factors such as old or chronic injuries, obesity, disabilities, or just plain laziness. That is where swimming shines, as it is one of the only sports that can be enjoyed by such a wide array of people and is also one of the best cardiovascular exercises available.
Those with old injuries such as back and knee problems can perform exercises in the buoyant water without any problems. Overweight individuals are actually at a slight ADVANTAGE in the water, you might say, because they can often perform certain skills that more lean people cannot due to the added buoyancy that their bodies naturally provide. While no one is encouraged to gain weight, this essentially means that swimming is a much better option than land exercises for people who are extremely overweight and one of the best ways to transition into other types of exercises, in water or on land. For people with disabilities, the same rules apply. Because of the buoyancy and resistance that water provides at every angle and every side, water sports are often the sport of choice for people with disabilities. And it’s fun! Even when you are simply playing a game, you are exercising your muscles more than if you were playing the same game on land, and it’s more refreshing. So swimming can even overcome laziness! ; ) No matter what your unique situation, water can be a powerful medium for you to begin increasing your cardiovascular strength.
- Muscular Strength and Endurance: Muscular strength and endurance do not necessarily go hand in hand, but swimming actually can build both at the same time. Muscular strength is simply the ability of a muscle to exert force. This alone does not equal true fitness, as one may be able to exert force, but have no endurance (think professional body builders). Swimming on the other hand builds lean, flexible muscles that are both strong and long lasting, depending on how one trains. This is achieved simply through the act of moving through the water, where every stroke meets water resistance, no matter what speed. When swimming slowly, one is working mainly for muscle strength, and when swimming faster, at an aerobic pace, one activates all three: cardio endurance, muscle strength and muscle endurance.
Building muscle strength and endurance is important at any age, but as people age, they lose muscle mass and flexibility, which can hinder their ability to do everyday tasks such as washing the dishes, taking out the trash, or playing with the grandkids. Muscle loss has also been associated with osteoporosis in women, which is why doctors recommend that women do some kind of resistance training at least 2-3 times a week. In fact it is important for all people, regardless of their age or sex to perform resistance training, but swimming can provide you with a tool that you can use for the rest of your life. (I know of a guy in his 80’s still swimming (and winning) races for a Master’s swim team. 80 years old!) The great thing about resistance training in the water is that no equipment is needed and no real forethought is required. Any kind of movement in the water is building muscle, no matter how slowly.
- Flexibility: Related to muscle strength and endurance is flexibility. Flexibility refers to the range of motion of one’s muscles and joints and is determined by many factors. However, swimming and water exercise, when accompanied by good stretching habits, can greatly improve flexibility and aid range of motion. Often used in a therapeutic setting, water has long been known to aid in increasing flexibility due to the many factors already mentioned, such as buoyancy, water resistance, and water temperature. The smoothness of the movements helps lengthen and stretch muscles rather than make them bulky, giving one the appearance of being more toned, healthy and strong.
- Weight Management: Exercise is vital to any kind of weight management routine. Regular exercise helps you:
•Increase your metabolism (which means you burn more calories)
•Decrease body fat
•Build and maintain lean muscle tissue
•And increase the body’s ability to use fat as fuel
Trainers often talk about the importance of both aerobic exercise and weight training as part of a good weight management program, but the beauty of swimming is that both of those elements can occur simultaneously. As I mentioned earlier, swimming and water activities can be both an aerobic workout AND a resistance workout, depending on how you train. This means that if your main exercise is swimming, you will be able to increase muscle tone and lose weight at the same time.
I think we’ve determined that swimming and water exercise is the most perfect sport in the world (bias, what’s that?) and can be enjoyed by all people, from age 1 to 100+, regardless of ability or circumstance. If you would like to start taking advantage of all the amazing health benefits of swimming today,
register for one of our private swimming lessons.
We can teach anyone how to swim or how to use the water for exercise, no matter what!
*Resource:American Red Cross. Swimming and Water Safety. StayWell, Yardley, PA. 2004.
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