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. Check out Swimming.org’s calorie cruncher to find out just how much you could burn off.
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. Front crawl or “free style” stroke allows you to stretch your arms above your head and rotate them, which is great for strengthening shoulders, and breast stroke can be therapeutic for knee pain resulting from injury, but what’s best for you will depend on your particular circumstances, so it’s important to check with your GP, physiotherapist or other suitably qualified clinician before embarking on a new exercise regime to ensure it’s safe.
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).
On top of all this, keeping active during pregnancy can promote a quicker postpartum recovery for you. It has also shown to help prevent gestational diabetes through improved glucose tolerance7, and increasing levels of physical activity before pregnancy and during early pregnancy may also reduce the risk of preeclampsia.8
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. And because swimming pools are also often within community buildings, whether you join a class or go solo it can be a great way to meet people and build relationships. This is born out in Swim England’s Value of Swimming report, which found swimmers to be more socially connected and engaged in their community compared to non-swimmers and less likely to be lonely; they are also more likely to spend time with friends and family, have more close friends and meet with friends regularly.9
Even simply being close to water is said to have a powerful effect on the brain. A 2011 study used a smartphone app called Mappiness to track the well-being levels of around 22,000 participants. The participants received random prompts to report how happy they were in that moment. According to the over 1.1 million responses that were sent in, not only were people happier when they were outside, they were 5.2 percent happier when near bodies of water.10