What are the health benefits of swimming?

Jump into the water and reap the benefits!


health benefits of swimming

The health benefits of swimming for women are many, whether we are approaching menopause, right in the middle or way beyond.

But the most important point is that:

Swimming benefits our WHOLE BEING...


Because swimming is a holistic activity, it has benefits for our bodies, our minds, our sense of well-being, our emotional health, self-image and even our survival.

Not a bad package, I think you'll agree!

©iStockphoto.com/njgphoto

Health benefits of swimming - physical

Swimming is great for:

  • cardiovascular fitness
  • flexibility
  • weight loss
  • strength and stamina without muscle bulk
  • all round fitness

The list is impressive, but let’s look at each one of these benefits one by one:


Swimming for cardiovascular fitness is excellent for women of all ages.

Even if you just swim gently up and down the pool you can burn around 200 kcal and hour and it is said that a fast front crawl is the energy equivalent of a 8 mile per hour run!! ... now that's what I call a fast burn!!(1)

And of course all this calorie burning doesn't carry the joint damage risk of running - let the water carry your weight, while you reap the cardiovascular benefits of swimming.

Never think you’re past it ... if you want to take your fitness swimming to competition levels you can compete in age grouped Masters swimming competitions. Masters swimming is really catching on, because people past their first flush of youth still want to swim at the best level for their age.

In Masters events you can compete right up to and beyond the age of 100! And if you only want to improve your swimming, or work towards setting and beating your own records and meet new friends while you do so, Masters swimming clubs are just the ticket. 


Flexibility improvement with swimming is often not valued.

Flexibility is one aspect of fitness that can be forgotten but which comes into a new power of its own as we get older. Because when we are more flexible we are less prone to injury.

Why flexibility matters:

We've all suffered from those irritating little hurts we get now we're no longer in the first flush of youth - if we move awkwardly, twist or "catch" ourselves in a funny position...

We can't stop those hurts completely, but being more flexible can help to keep our joints oiled and reduce injuries. And if we fall, being flexible can help to prevent broken bones, torn ligaments or other damage - simply because it allows us to maintain a greater freedom of movement than we might otherwise have as we age.

Swimming helps with flexibility improvement and maintainance in several ways:

1. Because the water, rather than your own muscles, supports your body weight. This feeling of being enveloped by the water allows you a range of whole body movement that is simply not possible on land.

2. If you master the different swimming strokes you can really reap the greatest health benefits of swimming by improving your flexibility in a range of joints:

Think:

  • ankles - flutter kick in crawl is great for beautiful, freely moving ankles
  • shoulders - crawl and backstroke overarm circling will keep those shoulder joints turning
  • neck - breast-stroke, but be careful here to make sure you can really do a good breast-stroke that involves ducking your face. Otherwise there is a danger that you may stretch and over-extend your neck awkwardly.
  • back, hips and legs - breast stroke kick and butterfly kick get our lower bodies moving in all sorts of wonderful ways!

3. If you suffer from arthritis, swimming can also offer benefits. Studies have found that swimming improves use in affected joints and people with rheumatoid arthritis have found more benefits from hydrotherapy than other activities (2).


Controlling weight during menopause: A recent study from Australia found that previously sedentary postmenopausal women who took up a programme of regular swimming lost more weight than a similar group of women who did an equivalent amount of walking exercise (3).

After a year on the swimming programme, the swimmers lost more fat off their waists, their hips and their calves than women on the walking programme, and they achieved this even though they exercised only 117 minutes a week rather than the recommended 150 minutes a week.


Avoid menopause weight gain


Stamina and strength: In order to move through the water you obviously need to use your muscles...

Each of the four major swimming strokes - crawl, breast-stroke, back-stroke and butterfly, require constant muscle contraction and relaxation to simply propel you along. The water resists your movement through it - causing you to work hard - harder than you have to work to move through the air. But at the same time, water is your friend because it supports your body weight.

So the water resists and supports, resists and supports... providing a fantastic all-round non-weight bearing work-out that creates great health benefits of swimming for improving muscle strength and - as your distance increases with training - stamina.


Swimming and health - All round fitness: Swimming makes your heart and lungs work. You have to learn to breathe properly if you are to master a good swimming stroke: Simply the combination of the muscle contractions together with regular deep breathing that swimming demands, has fantastic fitness benefits.

Strangely, there has been much less research on the health benefits of swimming than for other activities such as walking or running, but the few studies that have been done are very favourable for swimming. For instance one study that followed up over 40,000 people from age 20 to 90 found lower death rates amongst swimmers compared with either runners or walkers (4).

And a recent study on bone health shows that swimming can help keep our bones strong too. This is especially interesting as it goes against accepted wisdom, which says that because swimming is non-weight bearing it doesn't benefit bones. But in this Israeli study, of 35 postmenopausal women who took part in a 7 month programme of water exercise, the researchers found positive health benefits of swimming on bone status.


So the news is good for swimming and water exercise - the health benefits of swimming are holistic and comprehensive... and that's just for starters because swimming also has great benefits on mental health as well.


Mind body benefits of swimming


Bibliography - Health Benefits of Swimming

  1. http://www.swimming.org/learning-to-swim/why-learn-to-swim/
  2. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/health_benefits_water_exercise.html
  3. Cox KL et al. A comparison of the effects of swimming and walking on body weight, fat distribution, lipids, glucose, and insulin in older women-the Sedentary Women Exercise Adherence Trial 2. Metabolism 2010 Nov;59:1562-73.
  4. http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/take-the-plunge-for-your-heart.shtml
  5. Rotstein et al. The effect of a water exercise program on bone density of postmenopausal women. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008 Sep;48(3):352-9.

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