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Eight Benefits of Swimming and Other Water-Based Exercises

Swimming, exercise, fitness, water aerobics

Even though you know that exercise is good for you, if you have arthritis, weight limitations, or haven’t exercised in some time, getting started can be difficult. But there is one type of exercise that can be done by all – young, old, any weight or physical ability.

“Swimming is a good, whole-body (aerobic) exercise that has low impact,” says Robert A. Robergs, director of the exercise physiology lab at the University of New Mexico. Even if you have never swum a lap before, you can still receive fitness and health benefits by just moving regular exercise such as walking or jogging to a pool. Here’s why:

  1. Buoyancy: This water property allows people to do exercises that are difficult on land. 90 % of your body is buoyant when in the water up to your neck, so you are not hitting the floor as hard as you would on land. No pounding or jarring!
  2. Resistance: There is continual resistance to every move you make. The water offers 12% - 14% more resistance than when you exercise on land. Resistance does not allow for sudden body movements.
  3. Cooling Effects: Water disperses heat more efficiently, so there is less chance of overheating. The water continuously cools the body. Exercise in the water is cooler and more comfortable than it is on land.

Not yet convinced? Here are 8 more health benefits you can receive from swimming and water exercises:

1. It is Anti-Aging
Well, it might not help with wrinkles but swimming does decrease the risk of dying by nearly 50% according to a study conducted by Dr. Steven Blair at the University of South Carolina. The 32-year study that followed 40,000 men discovered that swimmers have the lowest death rate over runners, walkers and especially men who were sedentary.

2. Improves Flexibility
Water is one of the best mediums in which to increase flexibility. Swimming can increase your range of motion without causing stress on the body’s joints. To improve flexibility even further, try gentle stretches in the pool after a swim workout. The support of the water can help you hold your balance longer than on land, offering a greater stretch.

3. Improves Asthma Symptoms
You may think that having breathing trouble is a reason not to exercise. Not so. Swimming, like all aerobic exercises, increases lung capacity. Since water is denser than air, your lungs work harder during a swimming workout and has definite benefits for patients with asthma, says researchers at the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Center at McMaster University.

4. Lowers Diabetes and Heart Disease Risk
A University of Maryland study found that aerobic exercise and resistance training, alone or in combination, improves blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes. Plus, swimming is a good cardiovascular workout. Swimming (or any aerobic exercise) for 30 minutes a day can reduce coronary heart disease risk by 30 to 40% by lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels and making the heart more efficient.

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5. Boosts Mental Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends water-based exercise for improving mood and reducing anxiety levels. During swimming, the body releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good neurochemicals, plus also can evoke a relaxation response the same way as yoga does. Swimming can also be a meditative exercise, since while you are underwater, you tend to “drown out” distractions.

6. It Can Help You Lose Weight
Swimming for at least an hour can burn up to 500 calories. The exact number of calories you burn depends upon your own physiology and the intensity with which you exercise but in general, for every 10 minutes of swimming: the breast stroke will burn 60 calories; the backstroke torches 80; the freestyle lights up 100; and the butterfly stroke incinerates an impressive 150.

7. Lower Chance of Injury than Other Activities
"You can swim almost every day without risking injury," says Joel Stager PhD, director of the Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming at Indiana University at Bloomington. "You can't say the same for running or strength training."

8. Good for All Ages and Ability Levels
Elderly people who may be at risk for falling can reduce that risk by getting in a pool a few times a week. Compared to other workouts, swimming offers a great way to increase muscular strength and muscle tone. Swimming can also improve bone strength, especially in post-menopausal women. Plus, if you are in a warm water pool, patients with arthritis get an added benefit of soothing the pain of sore joints.

Swimming is also a fun physical activity for children. It promotes fitness and teaches a child to strive for physical achievement. Plus, teaching a child to swim early in life can prevent drowning.

Pregnant? Exercising is good for you, especially swimming. A study from the University of Maryland found that swimming face down promotes optimum blood flow to the uterus.

Again, if you aren’t a “swimmer”, there are a lot of exercise options for the water:

  • Water Walking: Moving forward, backward, and sideward, using regular, short, quick, or long steps, in waist-deep or chest-deep water
  • Water Aerobics: Full body rhythmic exercises conducted in shallow and/or deep water for 20 minutes or more, designed to provide cardiovascular benefits
  • Water Toning/Strength Toning: Upper and lower body moves designed to strengthen, firm, and sculpt the muscles by using the resistance of the water and/or water exercise equipment.
  • Flexibility Training: Large movements using each body part's full range of motion, along with full body stretches.
  • Water Therapy & Rehabilitation: Procedures in the water designed and implemented for special clinical purposes.
  • Water Yoga & Relaxation: Gentle, easy-flowing moves using the water as a relaxation medium.
  • Deep Water Running: Simulating land running in the water depth where the feet do not touch the bottom of the pool. Flotation devices are used. Various running styles, drills, and methods can be used
  • Wall Exercise (Deep or Shallow): Using the pool wall for support to isolate various body parts.
  • Water Fitness Products: Professional products designed and manufactured specifically for water fitness activities - for toning, strengthening, and endurance work. Such products add variety to the class, motivate students, and create additional resistance and support.

Women’s Health Magazine
Bucknell University
The United States Water Fitness Association