Swimming can be a lot of fun, and it is great exercise, but some of us might avoid doing it because of the need to get suited up, remember a towel and goggles, and shower the chlorine out of our hair immediately afterwards. Getting prepared to swim can be a bit more labor intensive than just throwing on some shorts and hitting the treadmill, but the rewards are so much greater. Read on to learn all the reasons that swimming should be a major component of your workout routine.
It Fulfills Both Cardio and Strength Training
When you’re in the water, even if your feet touch the ground, you need to move constantly to keep your balance. Treading water, walking in the lazy river, and swimming all serve as really effective cardio. And because water is a massive 800x denser than air, your muscles meet constant resistance when you’re in the pool as well. Though you get less strength training than if you used weights, you still receive at least 1 ½ times the workout for the same effort.
It Builds Lung Strength
In swimming your face is often underwater and you need to practice rhythmic breathing as you surface between strokes. Because oxygen is at a premium when you’re holding your breath, your body adapts in order to use oxygen more efficiently. It also begins to take in more fresh air with each breath, and release more carbon dioxide when you exhale. This process will net you lower resting heart rates, lower blood pressure, and even better running performance.
It Improves Your Runs
Because swimming improves your body’s ability to use oxygen, regular swimming can increase your overall endurance a great deal. You’ll also be able to run faster for longer without getting out of breath. The more you swim, the better the results, especially if you practice a controlled breathing technique. Participants in a Scandinavian study took just two breaths per length of the pool and were able to improve their running economy by 6% in just 12 sessions. Beyond the breathing help, swimming tones your glutes, core, hamstrings, and shoulders, all of which are useful in running.
It’s Low Impact on Joints
People who are recovering from an injury or surgery gravitate to the pool because water cushions the joints. Running can be hard on the knees of a healthy person, too, so swimming makes for a good break from more intense workouts. In fact, swimming is thought to be better than full rest on your regular recovery days. A leisurely swim or even walk in the pool feels great to your muscles without putting wear and tear on the joints.
It’s a Stress Buster
Exercise in general is fantastic for stress because the endorphins released feel great and improve mood. But being submerged in water has an added level of stress relief. According to the publication Pain Research & Management, when you are surrounded by water the amount of sensory information that bombards your body is reduced. That leads to a feeling of calm. Regular sessions in a floatation tank have also been found to relieve people who suffer from chronic stress. This sensory reduction is probably why soaking in the bathtub is also associated with relaxation.
It Boosts Your Brain
A recent study of men found that when they submerge themselves in water up to the level of their hearts, blood flow to the brain increases by up to 14%. The study’s leaders believe the result has something to do with water pressure on the chest cavity, and are going forward with further studies on whether water-based workouts create greater blood flow to the brain than land-based exercise. The results on that have yet to be returned, but in the meantime we can assume that the benefits are largely the same for women as for men.
It Builds Underworked Muscles
We don’t usually spend a lot of time with our arms over our heads, especially at work, but also while exercising. Neither running nor biking targets your lats, deltoids, and traps, and as a result, this muscle group is often neglected. Swimming also requires attention to staying balanced and level in the water, which can help develop the deep stabilizing muscles of your core and lower back. Moving your arms and legs at the same time as engaging your core to balance can also help improve overall coordination even on dry land.
It Keeps You Young
Researchers from Indiana University say that regular swimmers have bodies that appear 20 years younger than their actual age. That highly desirable situation is attributed to swimming’s ability to positively affect cholesterol levels, blood pressure, cardiovascular condition, central nervous system health, muscle mass, cognitive functioning, and blood chemistry. We don’t know of any other single exercise that can offer all those benefits. Though many teenagers want to look older, wouldn’t it be nice to freeze the clock at age 21?
Anyone Can Do It
Of course, you do need to know how to swim, but that aside, there is very little that should stop a person from getting in the pool. Heavily pregnant women will find sweet relief from the pressure of their growing babies while in the water and can train all the way up to their due dates. People recovering from an injury or who have painful joints can work out without pain. Swimming is a highly customizable activity, with you controlling the pace and intensity. The only people who should avoid the pool are those with open wounds. Of course, you should also steer clear if you see warning signs of a dirty pool.
It’s Just Plain Fun
Swimming feels good and is often enjoyed socially. There are all sorts of ways to get in a workout and some quality time with loved ones at the same time. From swim races to Marco Polo, water polo to simply walking in a lazy river with your bestie, a trip to the pool does not have to be a lone activity. However, if you prefer some solitude, there is nothing like going underwater to dampen the hubbub of daily living.
We bet you want to go swimming right about now – what got you? Was it the dual cardio/strength benefit or the increased lung capacity? Maybe, like us, you wouldn’t mind looking and feeling 20 years younger. Whatever your motivation, get out and get wet. Your body will thank you for it!