Exercise and fitness

Senior Physiologist, Raj Kundhi ANutr

Health benefits of swimming

26 August 2020

Swimming is a fantastic way to get active and enjoy the many health and wellness benefits associated with exercising, regardless of your age, ability or fitness levels.

It even burns as much energy as a light jog – around 200-300 calories in just 20 minutes. Plus, if you’re not a fan of getting all hot and sweaty, swimming is the perfect way to work out without ending up a hot mess!

Senior physiologist Raj Kundi in our Proactive Health team explains why swimming is so good for your mind and body, and offers some top tips to get you started.

Why is swimming so good for us?

1. It can help us live longer!

In a study of 80,000 people, commissioned by Swim England, swimmers were found to have a 28% lower risk of early death and 41% lower risk of death due to heart disease and stroke.1  

Swimming also stacks up against other forms of exercise. Research shows that swimmers live longer than walkers and runners. And not just a little bit longer, either. In a study of more than 40,000 men ages 20 to 90 who were followed for 32 years, swimmers were 50 percent less likely to die during the study period than were walkers or runners.2

2. Swimming burns calories

Swimming is one of the most effective ways to burn calories. According to Swim England, 30 minutes exercising in the water is worth 45 minutes of the same activity on land. Swimming breaststroke for just 20 minutes burns 200-300 calories depending on intensity.3 This is equivalent to a jog and 4-5 times that of going for a walk. And because it’s gentler on your body you’re likely to be able to keep going for longer, so the overall benefit is greater.

3. Swimming makes getting active accessible for all

Swimming is suitable for people of all ages and abilities. Crucially, because water supports 90% of your bodyweight, it’s suitable for people living with pain, disability, injury or illnesses that make it difficult for them to get active in other ways. In short, when it comes to exercise, swimming is the ultimate leveller.

4. It improves cardiovascular fitness

Swimming is an effective and accessible way to improve your overall fitness and boost heart health and lung function. This means your body is able to use oxygen more efficiently, which can help you feel more energised and improve cognitive function. And because swimming requires you to control your breathing, it can be beneficial for asthma sufferers and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).4

Note that there is evidence that long-term exposure to some chemicals found in swimming pools could increase asthma risk in swimmers.5 However a  large birth cohort study (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children birth cohort), found that British children from birth to the age of 10 did not increase their asthma risk with swimming pool attendance, and improved their lung function with a decreased risk of asthma symptoms.6

5. It’s also a form of strength training

Not only does swimming provide a cardiovascular workout, it’s also a form of strength training, helping to keep your muscles healthy and improve bone strength as you move against the  natural resistance of the water. This makes it a great way to achieve government recommended physical activity levels – which now include targets for both aerobic and muscle building exercise – more easily because you’re doing both at once! Resistance exercise also improves balance, helping to prevent falls and fractures in older adults.

6. Swimming helps relieve joint pain 

When you’re in pain, working out may well be the last thing you want to do, but the fact is, exercise is a key factor in the relief of existing joint pain and the prevention of further deterioration and immobility in the future. Swimming is the ideal solution for a number of reasons.

First, as we’ve seen because the water supports your body weight, it allows you to tone up the supporting muscles and maintain the structure of the joints, without the discomfort of other forms of exercise.

Second, it provides a wide range of motion, increasing your ability to move your joints to the fullest degree, depending on the stroke or combination of strokes you choose. 

7. It’s recommended during pregnancy

Working out while you’re pregnant offers lots of benefits for you and your baby. Swimming and aquatic exercise get top billing for pregnant women due to the decreased risk of falling and injury, as well as the buoyancy factor that really comes to the fore as you head towards your due date!

Not only can exercise help boost your mood, but swimming in particular can also reduce some of the more unpleasant pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea, sciatic pain and puffy ankles, and because baby’s floating along with you, it’s gentle on your loosening joints and ligaments (your body’s natural response to pregnancy hormones).

8. Swimming is great for your mental health 

Regular swimming can lower stress levels, reduce anxiety and depression and improve your sleep patterns. Regular swimmers also report improvements in their self-esteem and confidence.


1. The Health and Wellbeing Benefits of Swimming report., Commissioned by Swim England’s Swimming and Health Commission, chaired by Professor Ian Cumming. Published June 2017.

2. Oja P, Kelly P, Pedisic Z, et al. Associations of specific types of sports and exercise with all-cause and cardiovascular-disease mortality: a cohort study of 80 306 British adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017;51:812-817.

3. 8 benefits of swimming whatever your fitness level, Just swim – the website forswimming.org. (Accessed 12/8/2020).

4. Goodman M, Hays S. Asthma and swimming: a meta-analysis. J Asthma. 2008; 45: 639–47. [PubMed Abstract].

5. Weisel CP, Richardson SD, Nemery B, Aggazzotti G, Baraldi E, Blatchley ER3rd. Childhood asthma and environmental exposures at swimming pools: state of the science and research recommendations. Environ Health Perspect. 2009; 117: 500–7.

6. Font-Ribera L, Villanueva CM, Nieuwenhuijsen MJ, Zock JP, Kogevinas M, Henderson J. Swimming pool attendance, asthma, allergies, and lung function in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children cohort. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011; 183: 582–8. [PubMed Abstract].

7. Aune D, Sen A, Henriksen T, Saugstad OD, Tonstad S. Physical activity and the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2016 Oct;31(10):967-997. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27485519/.

8. Aune D1, Saugstad OD, Henriksen T, Tonstad S. Physical activity and the risk of preeclampsia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Epidemiology. 2014 May;25(3):331-43. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000036.

9. Value of swimming report. Commissioned by Swim England. Published November 2019.

10. George MacKerron and Susana Mourato. Happiness is greater in natural environments. Global Environmental Change. Volume 23; issue 5; October 2013; pages 992-1000.

11. Thriving with nature guide. Co-produced by WWF-UK and the Mental Health Foundation.