When was the last time you went swimming? Were you given lessons to learn the correct way to swim, or were you tossed into the water and told to swim?
How anyone learns to swim does have some relevance. It is important because learning how to swim by pacing your strokes, stretching out your body to gain propulsion, and proper breathing techniques increase the benefits you can receive. Benefits include physical, mental, social, and anti-aging properties.
Scientists have dived in to the data to explain what happens to your body when you swim every day.
Breakdown of the benefits of swimming
When most of us think of the benefits of swimming over another workout, I think the first thing that comes to mind is the lack of sweating. For those who really dislike sweating, that is a huge boon.
The other benefit may be that the water feels so nice. Who doesn’t like taking a bath? Being immersed in water can be very relaxing and stress-reducing. While these two factors may be what entices you to go for a swim, it doesn’t touch the tremendous benefits of swimming.
Physical Benefits of Swimming
The physical benefits of swimming encompass a variety of our bodily systems; cardiovascular, joints, and muscular.
Swimming benefits your heart and lungs
Swimming benefits for your heart:
Two studies were performed at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, looking at the cardiovascular health of swimming. Harvard Health Publishing from Harvard Medical School published their summary of the studies.
- The first study encompassed nearly 46,000 males and females who were either walkers, runners, swimmers, or physically inactive. They measured blood pressure, cholesterol levels, energy output, and other tests related to cardiovascular health. The swimmers and runners had the best numbers.
- The second study looked at 40,547 men ages 20-90. With an average of 13 years of observation, only 2% of the swimmers passed away in comparison to the 8% of runners, 9% of walkers and 11% of the physically inactive.
According to the American Heart Association, swimming is considered an aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise can help enlarge the heart by strengthening it. This allows it to pump better, allowing for increased blood flow in the body.
For women, swimming just 30 minutes a day can decrease coronary heart disease by 30-40%. It also helps to raise HDL, the good cholesterol. Some studies have shown that aerobic exercise can keep the cells in the lining of your arteries flexible and healthier.
Swimming benefits for your lungs:
For those with asthma, exercise can be challenging. Choosing to swim in an indoor pool increases the moisture in the air, which can lessen exercise-induced asthma. An article in Mind, Body, Green states that studies have shown that asthmatic symptoms remained decreased even after a year of quitting swimming.
Swimming can also help to increase your lung volume due to the pacing of your breathing. This allows your lungs to take in more oxygen.
Anyone who swims should learn the proper breathing techniques to ensure you are not putting excess stress on your body or putting your life at risk. Additionally, learning proper breathing techniques is beneficial in yoga, meditation, and other forms of exercise.
Swimming for the benefit of your joints
One of the best qualities of water is its buoyancy. It is so relaxing to float on the water or lazily swim across the pool. The ability for us to be lifted while in the water makes it low to no stress on our joints or skeletal system. A lack of joint stress makes it perfect for anyone with arthritis or other difficulties with joint mobility.
Water acts as a cushion while also somewhat supporting us. For older adults, this is crucial. Most older adults are susceptible to falling. This can result in severe strains or sprains, and potentially breaking or fracturing bones.
Live Science published an article outlining an Australian study. They did a study of 1,700 men, age 70 or older, and compared their rate of falls in a variety of activities. The men who swam had a 33% decrease in falling rate compared to other sports. There had been 2,700 falls in total.
If you are able, finding a heated pool is doubly good for your joints. The heat helps the muscles around your joints to relax, which aids in reducing irritation and inflammation.
Muscular benefits from swimming
Water creates a natural resistance to your muscles. If you’ve ever done resistance training, it operates the same. The resistance is equivalent to the amount you push against it. The deeper in the water you are, the more evenly distributed the resistance is. This resistance makes a great muscle toner and is good for individuals who haven’t worked out in a while, are overweight, or are older.
How your muscles get a workout depends upon the type of swimming strokes you do or the water aerobics program you engage in. According to Active SG, these are the overall muscles consistently used:
- In order to maintain balance and proper body positioning, you need to use your core abdominal muscles and your lower-back muscles.
- To help your hands go through the water and your arms stretch out to increase propulsion, you need to use your deltoid and shoulder muscles.
- While pulling water during your underwater stroke, you use your forearm muscles.
- To keep your shoulders in the proper position, your upper back muscles are used.
- To maintain balance and help in pushing off, you need your glutes and hamstring muscles.
Proper swimming technique also requires you to stretch out your muscles to cover the greater distance. By stretching the muscles, you are increasing your flexibility.
Swimming to improve your mental state of mind
Given that swimming is a physical activity, the mental benefits can get overlooked. By its nature, all the elements of swimming mimic the benefits of yoga with the additional perk of being in the water.
Being in the water itself is already associated with relaxing in our brains. We don’t approach swimming with the same aggression and difficulty as we would lifting weights, kickboxing, or another physical sport. Yet, it is active enough to release dopamine in our system. Dopamine is the “feel-good” hormone that determines how well our brain functions and boosts positive attitudes and sense of well-being.
The method of breathing and pacing of strokes needed for swimming also mimics the pacing of breathing used in meditation and yoga. Your focus is only on your body and breath, allowing your thoughts to flow out unhindered. Learning to calm your mind has ample evidence as to its stress-relieving benefits and a positive mindset.
Swimming to decrease our aging process
A study was performed at the Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, to study the results of active physical fitness on aging. Dr. Joel Stager led The Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming, in examining for specific markers associated with aging: physical function, health, quality of life, and physical activity patterns of Master Swimmers in the populace. Its focus was to discover if individuals who have led an active lifestyle have a higher quality of life and better overall health.
The results showed that Master Swimmers had a significant overall improved quality of life, physical health, and mental health markers. The general public shows a huge drop in physical wellness between the ages of 45+, whereas the swimmers only drop a small amount incrementally at the same age and a slightly bigger drop not until age 55+. Overall, their health is significantly better.
The largest difference was shown in mental health. The general public has ups and downs throughout their lives, starting from the age of 18. The Master Swimmers, on the other hand, show a steady increase all the way through, even at ages 65+ where the general populace is at its lowest. As part of the study, the parties were also inquired about the amount of social activity, and the swimmers proved to be more social.
This impressive decrease in aging markers for the Master Swimmers verifies that both consistent physical activity and social interaction, which accompanies being physically active, can reduce the degeneration of cells which causes aging. Recent studies have also verified that mental health is improved by social interaction and is a trigger for someone to be more physically active than someone who is alone.
While the study in Indiana used two extreme opposites as their subjects, comparing life-long master swimmers to a general populace, the results still demonstrate the point. A life of physical activity not only greatly improves your overall physical health and physical strength, but also has a significant impact on your mental health throughout your lifetime. All of these factors help in decreasing the aging process.
Scientists have pointed out what happens to your body when you swim. Increased muscle tone, flexibility, improved cardiovascular health, and enhanced mental health all result from swimming. These benefits don’t require you to be a master swimmer. Finally, swimming is a low stress on your body for anyone’s level of fitness. So, grab your suit and dive into better health!