When most of us think of exercise, images of long runs on the treadmill or picking up heavy weights often come to mind. But while these are two great ways to stay in shape, they’re not for everyone.
So if you’re looking to stay in shape but can’t stand the gym, it might be time for you to try something a little different: swimming. Not only is this exercise a fun change from your usual routine, it also comes with a host of benefits that rival even the most intense gym workouts.
1. It’s good for cardiorespiratory fitness
Swimming a few times a week can be a great way to improve many aspects of your cardiovascular fitness, which can help you reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and death from any cause.
For example, one study found that swimming 40-50 minutes three times a week for three months has been shown to increase aerobic capacity. These improvements in aerobic capacity can also be seen in young children and the elderly who swim regularly too.
2. It develops certain types of strength
Since water is more dense and viscous than air, it adds resistance to our movements. This would explain why swimming can help improve many different aspects of strength.
Research shows that regular swimmers have greater respiratory muscle strength compared to groups undertaking a cycling or running program. Respiratory muscle strength is the pressure your respiratory muscles can generate when you inhale or exhale. As such, swimming may be recommended for those who have chronic respiratory disease where the strength of the respiratory muscles needs to be improved or maintained. And the longer you keep swimming, the more more of these strength upgrades you are likely to see.
Aquatic exercises (like water aerobics) and swimming are great for rehabilitation and can also help improve hip muscle strength in the elderly, which may reduce their risk of falls. These activities can also improve grip strength in people with osteoarthritis. Low grip strength is a predictor of increased risk of functional limitations and a reduced quality of life as we age. Therefore, it is important to gain or maintain strength and function now to reduce the impact later in life.
3. It’s less impactful on the joints
Compared to land activities (such as running or cycling), swimming reduces stress related to weight. This means there is less compression on the joints than there would be exercising on land. This makes swimming a great way to be physically active for people who would otherwise struggle to exercise.
For example, swimming can be great for people recovering from injury or illness, with research showing that swimming could moderately reduce pain and improve physical function in adults who suffered from musculoskeletal problems (such as arthritis or joint problems). Swimming may also benefit older people, with a study showing that the physical benefits of swimming could reduce the risk of falls.
Swimming can also be ideal for pregnant women, especially those who suffer from pelvic girdle pain. Overweight people can also benefit from swimming. Not only is this form of exercise easier on the joints, it can also be as effective as walking for reduce body fat.
4. It improves mental well-being
There is strong evidence that physical activity in general can prevent symptoms of depressionand reduce the risk of developing a low mood and anxiety. Exercise can also improve the quality of life of people with depression.
Swimming itself is associated with a range of wellness benefits – including improved satisfaction with life and feeling healthier. It can also reduce stress levels. These signs of positive well-being can in turn translate into a reduced chance of poor mental health.
Outside the swimming pool
If you’re already a regular swimmer, you might be looking for ways to change up your routine a bit or try something new. Many people are keen to try outdoor swimming due to its reported benefits for welfare, mood and Mental Health.
But outdoor swimming can come with a lot of additional risks, so there are a few things you should keep in mind if you’re considering trying it. This includes being aware of how cold water can affect your bodyas well as where you swim and the dangers associated with swimming rivers, careers and the sea.
There is also a perfect time of year to try outdoor swimming. Even in early summer, when the weather tends to be warmer in the UK, the outside water temperatures are still very cold. In fact, swimming deaths are common in late spring and early summer, as people swim to cool off. So if you want to try outdoor swimming, it’s best to wait until late July to early September when water temperatures are at their peak.
Luckily, there are also plenty of things you can do yourself to reduce risk posed by cold shock – the body’s initial response to a jump into cold water – for example by training the body in advance.
In addition to its many physical and mental health benefits, swimming can also be a fantastic way for people to socialize and get involved in their community. There are many ways to learn to swimso be on the lookout for opportunities in your neighborhood.