Whether it's through engaging in leisure time at the local pool or training hard for an event, swimming is a beloved pastime for millions of people. Not only is it a fun way to spend the summer, but swimming is also one of the most beneficial forms of exercise available. Its effects reach deep into the cardiovascular system, various muscle groups, and even the brain. Even people with conditions like asthma or arthritis can experience some major benefits from swimming.
A few studies have indicated that swimming could lower blood pressure. One such study focused on women with mild hypertension and after 15 weeks, both high-intensity and moderate swimmers had notable decreases in blood pressure. They also had lower resting heart rates and body fat percentages. Researchers found similar results in other studies.
People with asthma tend to have difficulty finding forms of exercise that do not aggravate their condition. Swimming is ideal for those who have asthma because humid environments are more tolerable than dry ones. Additionally, swimming provides a constant, moderate amount of exercise involving deep, rhythmic breathing. Some evidence even points to swimming lowering the chance of asthma-related death. It is worth noting that the cleaning chemicals present in some pools could irritate some people with asthma, so speak with a medical professional before diving in.
One of the biggest benefits of swimming, in comparison to other forms of exercise, is that it works almost the entire body in various ways. It helps build strength and improves endurance with a low risk of injury, thanks to the water suspending the body. Different strokes work different muscle groups, allowing swimmers to further customize their workouts and target specific areas of their bodies.
Though swimming and the immune system seem to be mostly unrelated, some scientists found that ice swimming in water below 41 degrees F could result in fewer upper respiratory tract infections. Experts are quick to note that only skilled swimmers should attempt ice swimming. Other benefits from this form of exercise include lower blood pressure and better insulin sensitivity.
Many research groups have shown that swimming does not only benefit the body but can also affect the mind. Exercise, in general, can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression due to the release of "feel-good" chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. Swimming is more accessible for most people than other forms of exercise in terms of strain on the body, so it is often a more effective choice of workout. Some evidence even points to swimming being able to fight free radical and oxidative stress, which are extremely present in people with anxiety and depression.
In addition to helping with anxiety, swimming can also provide some level of stress relief. A research survey once found that before swimming, around half of participants said they felt high levels of stress due to a fast-paced life. After swimming, that number had fallen to less than 10% of the surveyed individuals. Some experts attribute this to the rhythmic nature of swim strokes and breathing, as well as the overall effect exercise has on the body.
Studies involving people with dementia discovered that swimming saw an improvement in mood across most participants after a 12-week aquatic program. Swimming and other water-based exercises boosted mood and led to a drop in dementia's behavioral and psychological symptoms. Many experts believe that the improvements in mood could apply to people with other conditions, as well.
Over 50 percent of older adults experience insomnia at night, preventing them from getting enough sleep. Some medical experts suggest giving swimming a try to increase the time spent sleeping and improve overall sleep quality. Regular aerobic exercise fights insomnia. Because swimming is much easier on the body, it is an ideal aerobic workout for older adults.
Because swimming involves moving so many different parts of the body, it burns an extreme amount of calories—especially in comparison to other aerobic exercises. A 155-pound person who swims leisurely can expect to burn a little over 200 calories every 30 minutes. More intense strokes, such as the butterfly, can burn upwards of 400 in the same timeframe. While these numbers drop slightly the better a swimmer becomes, swimming remains a great way to torch extra calories.
Many water-based exercises are ideal for people with arthritis because they are low-impact. Those with the condition can improve the use of their joints without worrying about causing further damage or experiencing pain. Studies show that people with rheumatoid arthritis show more health improvements following hydrotherapy than with most other forms of exercise.
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