5 Benefits of Swimming for Exercise
It’s seriously one of the best workouts out there.
You know how people are always talking about eating seasonally? Cherries and zucchini in June, and corn and peaches in July? We like to think that working out can be seasonal, too, and with summer in full swing, that means lots and lots of swimming.
If you don’t have access to an indoor swimming pool during winter months, the arrival of hot summer days means finding a body of water where you can swim ASAP (pool, lake, ocean, it doesn’t matter). Besides beating the heat, swimming has a ton of health benefits that no other exercise can touch.
According to this study, one benefit of swimming is that it can lower the risk of an early death by 28%. Some other studies have shown that swimming benefits include lowering blood pressure and controlling blood sugar. Need more reasons why the benefits of swimming run deep? Dive in below.
Benefit #1: It’s one of the greatest forms of cardio.
“By nature, swimming is an oxygen deprivation exercise,” says Executive Director of Los Angeles Swim Club Jason Schwarz. “You have to hold your breath for extended periods of time. Being an aerobic exercise, it really expands the heart and lungs. The stronger the heart, the more efficient it becomes at pumping oxygen-soaked blood through the body. The lung power one can develop over time is remarkable.”
“Breathwork is incredibly important in swimming,” says swim instructor and NCAA swim coach Lainie Cassel. “Breathing is not something most people were taught properly when they learned how to swim. If they were, many aren’t aware of how they’re breathing. Breath is the foundation of movement but it’s almost always overlooked, even in high-level athletes. Because of this, it’s the first thing I teach to everyone I work with—from beginners to elite age-group swimmers.”
Schwarz says breathing and the timing of the breath can be one of the most challenging aspects of swimming for exercise. “You really need to get the core, the body and spine in line with the head as it rotates to breathe,” he says. “During freestyle, your body should see-saw with every stroke from shoulder to shoulder. Instead of turning the head to breathe, allow your head to go with your body to get that breath. It’s a much more natural progression to breathe than forcing your head to turn.”
Benefit #2: Your body loves to work out in water.
“I work with a lot of runners and triathletes who have sustained various aches, pains and injuries from the constant stress that running places on the body,” says Cassel. “What makes swimming so beneficial and useful is that it can provide both a positive stress to the body to help it grow stronger and also provide an incredible tool for recovery from other activities.”
Cassel encourages her adult clients and athletes to swim in cold, open water whenever they get the chance, which she says helps decrease overall inflammation, boost the immune system and improve metabolic efficiency.
“Water acts as a gravity barrier, so your body feels more weightless,” says swim instructor and lifeguard at Florida Swim Company Melissa Lasseter. “When you land from a jump on pavement, all of your weight is thrusted downward, which causes your legs and feet to hold much more weight than they normally do. Water acts as an aid, helping to decrease the amount of weight shifted to your legs/feet. In turn, this helps your muscles, bones and joints work with less pain.”
Benefit #3: Swimming chills you out.
“Swimming keeps your mind focused on one action, instead of letting it wander,” says Lasseter. “Many people think swimming is peaceful because it helps to relax and decompress the mind.”
“This is something we discuss with our athletes often,” says Schwarz. “Our student-athletes have a challenging amount of schoolwork. Practice sessions are their opportunity to get away from whatever transpired that day, or whatever major work they have to do later. It’s a focused escape where they can dial-in on just being an athlete and challenge themselves physically. They tend to come out of the pool more focused and prepared for what’s in front of them.”
Benefit #4: It slows aging(!)
“The obvious benefits to swimming are greater strength and cardio,” says Schwarz, “but I think a surprising benefit is that swimming can delay the effects of aging. Building muscle, increasing blood flow, reducing weight and lowering blood pressure have all been proven to slow the aging process.”
An Indiana University study calls swimming the “fountain of youth,” concluding that regular swimming can stall the aging process not just for years but decades. It’s clear that the benefits of swimming for both body and mind are abundant.
Benefit #5: Swimming helps your recovery time.
Unlike pounding the pavement while running, one benefit of swimming is that it’s gentler on your body, which helps lessen your recovery time. “You can string a few consecutive challenging workouts together without the worry about the stress on your knees and joints,” says Schwarz. “The recovery time from one workout to the next is much quicker than land activities.”