the summer heat sizzles, cooling off in a swimming pool can provide
relief. In addition to recreation and relaxation, the health benefits of
swimming are countless. Whether you’re a veteran workout warrior
or looking to start a new workout regimen, swimming is a wonderful
component of any healthy lifestyle.
It’s often said that swimming works the entire body. That's true. You get wonderful fat-burning, heart-healthy cardio and all the muscle-building power of strength training mixed with a dash of the calming, mental health benefits of yoga – it’s a complete workout.
Because of its aerobic nature, swimming helps burn fat and lowers cholesterol. One hour of swimming burns roughly 650 calories, depending on the intensity of your workout. That’s compared to around 730 calories burned during one hour of running or 670 calories from cycling.
“Also, the water is cold, which is an incentive to keep moving,” says Donna Rosenberg, an avid swimmer and physical therapy assistant at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee.
What running and cycling can’t offer you, however, is full-body strength
training. Sure, both will work your quads and calves – but neither does
much of anything for your upper body or core. Since water has 12
times the resistance of air, every kick or paddle is like working out
with a resistance band. In fact, depending on the particular stroke,
swimming works every muscle in your body, from your neck down to your
toes, all at once. That sure beats spending hours in a gym,
doing a dozen different exercises that isolate only one muscle group at
In addition to building and toning muscle, all that wonderful, resistance-causing water has another beneficial side-effect as well – namely, it envelopes your body in a big, protective bubble. When immersed in water to the neck, your body bears just 10 percent of its weight; to the chest, it's about 30 percent. Because of this buoyancy, swimming causes less wear and tear on your body than running or cycling. There is no hard ground wreaking havoc on your joints with every step or hours spent crouched on a hard saddle – and who will stick with an exercise that causes them pain.
Because of its low-impact nature, swimming is the perfect physical activity for families to do together. Most pools have separate children and adult areas and it’s never too early to instill healthy habits. It’s also especially good for those with arthritis or other such physical limitations (or, for those runners or cyclists suffering from joint or muscle pain, mixing in some lap time is a great way to stay active during recovery). And since swimming-related injuries are rare (the water resistance prevents the sudden body movement that leads to many sports injuries), it’s a physical activity you can continue to do well into old age.
For those with hectic schedules, an hour in a pool a few times a week will do wonders not only for your physical fitness, but your mental fitness, as well. The repetitive rhythm of swimming and deep breathing has been shown to have a meditative effect.
“Swimming is quiet,” says Rosenberg, “and the buoyancy of the water and the rhythmic movements are calming.”
But, above all else, swimming is fun. And if you actually enjoy your workout, you’re far more likely to stick with it. If you’re interested in getting started, you can either check out one of many local swimming clubs and get hooked up with a coach who will teach you proper stroke and breathing technique or you can just grab a suit and dive in.