Why you should start swimming for exercise this summer

In June, mercury levels rise across the United States, prompting many people to visit their local swimming pool, lake or beach for a refreshing dip in the cool water. But swimming is more than just a popular summer pastime; it is also one of the best exercises for overall health. The unique aquatic environment creates physiological changes in the body that distinguish swimming from land activities and make it a rigorous workout accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

“The beauty of water is that it produces buoyancy,” says Bruce Beckerclinical professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington.

Becker studied the rehabilitative potential of swimming for 40 years, and he witnessed the healing effects of water after a child was diagnosed with poliomyelitis. He says his doctor used aquatic therapy to keep his limbs strong and agile while he recovered from the virus.

“It’s allowed me to have essentially fully functional joints throughout my life,” says Becker.

Why swimming is healthy

The buoyancy of water makes swimming a low-impact activity that’s easier on the joints than many land-based exercises, so those with arthritis or injuries can minimize pain while still benefiting from a quality training.

“People who are even well over their ideal body weight can exercise quite vigorously without damaging their joints and without experiencing pain,” says Becker.

While supporting aching joints, water (which is over 800 times denser than air) also provides resistance that quickly builds muscle strength throughout the body.

Swimming has a particular impact on the heart, says Becker. “The physiology of aquatic immersion changes a whole bunch of things in the circulatory system,” he says.

One of those things is the volume of blood moving through the heart. The compression force of water compresses the veins of the body and pushes the blood from the extremities towards the center. As a result, the heart pumps more blood to the lungs and arteries, which expand to accommodate the increased volume.

“Overall, blood production throughout the body increases by about 30 percent, which is really, really important in terms of increasing blood flow to muscles and other organs,” Becker says.

The heart isn’t the only organ working overtime in the water – the lungs also pull extra weight. The aquatic environment “presents a real challenge for the muscles of respiration,” says Becker.

Due to increased blood in the lungs and higher pressure on the chest wall, he says, the respiratory muscles work approximately 60% harder when submerged up to the chest than on land. For this reason, experts recommend hydrotherapy for people with conditions that affect respiratory function such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, muscular dystrophy and even COVID-19[feminine]. Becker says cross-training with aquatic exercise can also help land athletes increase their respiratory endurance.

Avoid the heat

Another unique characteristic of water is its ability to store and conduct heat. Water conducts heat away from the body more efficiently than air, so swimming in an 80 degree pool is more enjoyable than running in 80 degree air. Exercise-induced heat exhaustion is a common problem for athletes and can lead to heatstroke and death, but Becker says people who exercise in cold water or comfortably heated pools are at little risk of overheating.

“You’re more likely to risk hypothermia rather than hyperthermia,” he says.

Swimming is also beneficial for the spine. In a paper involving 331 patients, the researchers concluded that swimming helps reduce lower back pain. The buoyancy provides a cushion for the vertebrae and the horizontal body position eliminates the pressure on the spine that vertical activities often trigger, such as running and cycling. If you do laps, backstroke and freestyle are easier on the spine than butterfly and breaststroke, which require arching of the back.

Like other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming It has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve mood, improve sleep and extend lifespan. It’s a full body workout that recruits muscles in the legs, arms, core, and everywhere in between. If you want to try swimming for exercise, Becker recommends finding a local YMCA or community pool, which should offer a wide variety of affordable aquatic programs. With a bathing suit and access to water, almost anyone can dip their toes in H2O to not only cool off this summer, but to improve their fitness and health.

Comments are closed.