Swimming is one of the best all-around sports for your health

10 Health Benefits of Swimming: Let’s Dive In­

Diving into a new sport is easier said than done, especially when you're literally diving in—to the swimming pool, that is! No matter your age or fitness level—if you're a casual swimmer, a triathlete or anywhere in between—it's easy to get started with swimming. And it's a fun way to stay healthy year-round.

Ready to learn about how swimming can enhance your fitness—and your overall health? Grab your goggles and let's get started!

Is swimming good exercise for your health?

Yes! Of all the exercises you can do, swimming is one of the healthiest. It's gentle on the body, making it a great option for your long-term well-being. It helps you build endurance and tone your body among other whole-body benefits. This is because swimming is both low-impact and a full-body workout. Unlike popular non-swimming fitness activities like biking or running, swimming (which is the fourth most popular fitness activity among Americans) can be done by almost anyone, of any age, from babies to centenarians—and yet, it is the sport of choice for elite athletes, too.

10 health benefits of swimming

Swimming involves coordinating your arms and legs in constant movement to propel your body through a body of water—be it open water like a lake or an ocean, or in a pool. If that sounds simple, it is! And yet, these movements have a myriad of whole-body health benefits, including:

1. It’s good for the joints

Keeping your joints and bones healthy is a crucial part of aging well. But, if you want to keep the stress off your joints, it might be time to take your workout to the water. Because swimming is a low-impact workout, it involves movements that get your heart rate up but simultaneously doesn't put a lot of stress on the body.

When you swim, your body uses the buoyancy of the water and is considered a non-weight bearing activity. This supports the body's range of motion, allowing the limbs and the joints to move more freely through the water. This makes swimming an excellent means of promoting joint mobility and overall flexibility. In fact, one study of middle-aged and older adults found that regular swimming as exercise helps inhibit occasional joint discomfort, support optimal joint health and even muscle strength.

Pro tip: if you've chosen swimming because your joints need extra pampering, certain nutrients can offer additional support. The combination of Chinese skullcap, white mulberry and cutch tree can support healthy joint cartilage and comfort, benefiting your range of motion in or out of the pool. Together they make physical activity easier and more enjoyable by supporting a healthy inflammatory response, benefiting and promoting overall joint function and cartilage health.

2. Supports a healthy heart

Take heart in the cardio benefits of swimming! Swimming is an aerobic exercise. "Aerobic" literally means "with oxygen" and provides cardiovascular conditioning. In simpler terms, it just means that this form of exercise supports your cardiovascular system and helps your heart work more efficiently, especially during physical activity.

While engaging in regular exercise that's aerobic in nature, your breathing helps control the amount of oxygen that gets to the muscles, which then helps your body burn fuel and move. This can help support a steady heart rate (a general measure of physical fitness) relative to the intensity of the workout and keep your heart pumping efficiently during your workout.

That's not all. In one meta-analysis of the effects of water-based training programs, researchers found that water-based training two to three times a week for 45- to 65-minute sessions positively impacted strength, balance, and overall cardiorespiratory fitness.

3. Engages the majority of the body's muscle groups

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise along with an additional two days of muscle strength training per week. Swimming meets the WHO standard of moderate-intensity exercise and is a whole-body workout at the same time.

While it may seem like you're just using your arms and legs, getting in the pool is actually one of the best ways to engage your entire body—from your head to your toes! Each of the major swimming strokes engages different muscle groups, and a good swim workout will manage to work almost all of them in a single session.

4. It's an adaptable sport

Not everyone can kickbox, do box jumps or master a perfect pushup—in fact, most fitness activities have limitations of some sort, whether it's age, lack of balance or strength holding you back. But swimming has the unique ability of being accessible and adaptable for people of all ages, fitness levels, abilities and more. Research has even touted the benefits of swimming as an effective exercise for pregnant women due to it being a gentle exercise on the body and muscles, and a controlled way to get your heart rate up safely.

So, whether you're focused on more high-intensity training or you want your workout to be low intensity, you can get what you're seeking with a swim workout. Customize the intensity and adjust it to the precise pace that works for you.

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5. Helps you manage weight

Turns out putting on a swimsuit and getting in the water is a great way to feel good about putting that swimsuit on, too! Regular swimming provides a high calorie burn in a short period of time and can help support your weight loss goals.

Although the best stroke for burning calories and body weight is the butterfly (widely considered to be the most difficult stroke to master), rest assured, you can get a good calorie burn from other exercises in the water, too. On average, 30 minutes of a moderate-intensity swim can burn anywhere between 200 and 450 calories.

6. Promotes already-healthy blood pressure levels

While we already know we can take heart in the cardio benefits of this aerobic activity for maintaining your overall heart health, a regular dip in the pool can also support healthy blood pressure levels and arterial blood flow.

In one study, 43 non-swimmers were assigned to 12 weeks of pool exercise. It benefited the subjects in a few ways: the swimming group successfully maintained blood pressure levels in a healthy range and promoted healthy arterial and vascular function function—a crucial part of supporting optimal flow in the heart.

7. Supports lung and respiratory health

Half of the battle when it comes to swimming successfully is the timing of your breath. This aerobic exercise depends on your ability to manage your breathing and lung capacity between the movements of the exercise. So, it makes sense then that swimming is good for lung health!

Regular time in the pool can support lung capacity, which can positively impact your overall fitness so you get the most out of your workouts. Since swimmers tend to utilize more of their respiratory muscles due to the immersion in the water during the respiratory cycle, swimming can help support respiratory and ventilatory muscle function.

In fact, in one study comparing swimmers with distance runners, researchers found that compared to the running group, the swimmers had higher forced vital capacity (the maximum amount of air you can exhale from your lungs after fully inhaling) and maximum voluntary ventilation (the highest volume that can be inhaled and exhaled from the lungs during a 10-15 second interval).

8. Cognitive benefits

Did you know that getting your head in the game can help keep your head in the game? The cognitive health benefits of a good swim are undeniable. Hopping in the pool can help support aspects of memory and cognitive function, an essential part of staying sharp into your golden years and for your long-term health. Aerobic exercise can also influence the production of BDNF, or brain-derived neurotropic factor, a compound that helps support the growth of new brain cells.

9. Encourages optimal sleep

It turns out a good swim can also support good sleep! All that hard work is great for helping you get some shut eye. It might be the cold-water submersion that shocks your body into action during a workout and gets it back to equilibrium once finished, or all the hard work you do getting your heart rate up during interval training that encourages your body to get some rest. Either way, there's no doubt that swimming can help give you sweeter dreams…one lap at a time!

As one study found, moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity in general is an effective way to support optimal sleep quality, mood and quality of life associated with restfulness. And not only can swimming help support sleep onset latency (how long it takes you to fall asleep), but this sport (along with other types of moderate-intensity exercise) can even help you sleep deeper.

10. Enhances your mood and mental health

If you aren't already convinced to get your feet wet and get some laps in, did you know that the benefits of swimming go beyond physical health, too? Swimming (and exercise in general) regularly can support your mental health and help you manage stress.

Aerobic exercise helps boost endorphins, one of your body's feel-good neurotransmitters and release other feel-good neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which also helps support a healthy mood, making it easier to manage the everyday stresses life can throw our way.

What Are the Different Swimming Strokes?

If you've seen any swimmer at the Olympics, you might notice some common motions in the water—these movements are called strokes. There are four main strokes that all target different parts of the body. Though there are variations to each of them, these four are the ones you'll see being swum in competitions.

Freestyle—If you're familiar with any part of swimming, you probably know the most common stroke: front crawl, or freestyle. Like the name suggests, your arm movements mimic a "crawl" along the water combined with alternating kicks to propel you across while engaging your core to alternate breathing on each side. This stroke engages most of your muscles, but is particularly good for toning your stomach, behind, shoulders and back muscles.

Backstroke—As the name implies, you perform this exercise on your back. Think of it like the freestyle remixed. This stroke utilizes alternating your arms and legs to perform the movements. It helps tone your core, legs, arms and shoulders. As a bonus for those who do a lot of sitting in their jobs: the backstroke is great for hip flexibility, too. Plus, it even has the fringe benefit of helping improve your posture!

Breaststroke—Sometimes called the "frog stroke" due to the similarities between the swimming motion of a frog and the motions of this stroke, the breaststroke is probably one of the best swimming exercises for your cardio fitness. It supports the heart and lungs, and focuses on the muscles in your thighs, hamstrings and lower legs, upper back, chest and triceps.

Butterfly—This stroke is notorious for being one of the toughest to achieve. It involves your feet moving together in a continuous motion (known as dolphin kick) while your arms come out as wide as they will go to meet on the surface of the water. If you can master it, you're in for a treat: the butterfly is the most effective stroke for full-body toning and flexibility.

Different kinds of swimming exercises

The most common swimming workout typically involves lap swimming—engaging in the four core swimming strokes. For that kind of workout, there are programs and adult teams that you can join to get regular lap swims in. But, if doing laps isn't quite your speed, gyms offer other forms of water activities.

Water aerobics courses are very popular and combine a variety of types and difficulties when it comes to the workouts. Some combine land workouts with water-based exercises, but other exercises are designed just for the pool. These include Aqua Zumba and Aqua Tabata, water walking, and much more. These exercises tend to target both strength and cardiovascular training, so expect to feel the burn!

Equipment can be your friend, too! While most Aqua Fit style classes use light water weights to add gentle resistance, there are plenty of other options to enhance your workout in the way that works best for you. From kickboards to help improve, you guessed it, your kick, to pull buoys and wearable swim paddles to improve your arm motions, these tools can help you truly make your workout your own. Best of all, most pools provide the equipment you need during the duration of your workout.

How do you get started with swimming?

Michael Phelps didn't become a decorated Olympian in a day, and you shouldn't expect to be a swimming pro on day one, either. One of the most important parts of this sport is to go at your own pace! If you're brand new to swimming and don't know where to start, there are resources available to help you learn. Swimming lessons are offered at most pools or recreational centers and are available for all ages. Starting lessons can help you learn the basics and get comfortable simply just being in the pool.

If you're looking to really keep track of your time spent in the pool, wearable tech might be valuable for recording your progress. Several watches have features where you can track the number of laps you've swam, the overall distance you swam over the course of your workout, your heart rate while swimming and even the number of calories you've burned.

And remember, if you're starting to swim again recreationally, seriously, or for any reason in between, try not to overdo it. Start slow and focus on your form and technique first. Focusing on those elements will help you get more out of each movement, each breath, and ultimately each workout.

If you want to continue to maximize the health benefits of your newfound swimming hobby, take our quiz for personalized recommendations to help fuel your healthy lifestyle.

About the Author: Holly Denton got her degree in English Literature from Florida State University and previously worked in English education abroad with the Peace Corps and other development organizations before joining Life Extension, where she is currently a Copywriter.


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