Debating whether you should add a few laps around the pool to your next gym session? As it turns out, there are plenty of good reasons why you should!
Swimming is so much more than just a fun way to cool off when it’s hot out. When done as part of an active and healthy lifestyle, it’s actually one of the best ways to get a challenging (and enjoyable!) whole-body workout. Here are five benefits of swimming that’ll have you running to your nearest pool.
5 reasons to add swimming to your workout routine
1. Swimming is a great cardiovascular workout
Swimming requires you to use all of your major muscle groups, which means that it’s a highly effective cardiovascular workout.
Cardiovascular workouts are higher-intensity workouts that require the repetitive use of major muscle groups, such as the arms, legs, chest, back, and abdominals. As you go through your day, your blood carries nutrients to those muscle groups and throughout your entire body, including oxygen.
Because your big muscle groups require a ton of oxygen and nutrients to power you through cardio workouts, your heart works harder to keep up with your level of exertion. As a result, both your heart rate and your respiration rate increase during cardio exercises like swimming.
One of the biggest benefits of including regular cardiovascular exercise in your fitness routine is that it can help keep your heart healthy, and swimming is no exception. In fact, one study found that regular swimming exercise among participants over the age of 50 with prehypertension or hypertension Stage I led to significant improvements in their blood pressure readings.
Since heart health is such an important factor in your overall health, and because high blood pressure can be the start of serious and debilitating health conditions, this is a big deal!
2. Swimming can help improve your body composition
The benefits of cardio exercises like swimming go beyond keeping your cardiovascular system healthy — they can also help you maintain a healthy body composition.
Calories are the units of energy you get from the foods you eat, which allow your body to carry out all of its tasks for the day, such as walking around, keeping your various bodily systems running, etc. When you’re eating more calories than your body needs, it stores that excess in your fat cells, to be used later.
But if you’re at a deficit, or eating fewer calories than you’re burning in a day, your body then uses up the stored energy in your fat cells, ultimately leading to fat loss.
Regular physical activity is a great way to achieve a calorie deficit. Because they require so much energy to perform, cardio workouts like swimming are a highly effective method for burning calories, which can help reduce your body fat (when combined with other healthy lifestyle and dietary choices).
The efficacy of swimming as a means of improving body composition has been highlighted by recent research. For example, after 12 weeks of swim training three times per week, the women in this 2019 study saw improvements in both hip circumference and waist-hip ratio, which are important biomarkers for health.
A different study, published in the Metabolism Journal, compared the body composition benefits of both swimming and walking, another popular low-impact exercise.
The researchers found that, when compared to walking, swimming led to clinically significant improvements in body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin, as well as better body weight and lipid measures in the long term.
3. Swimming is easy on the joints (and good for them, too!)
It’s no secret that cardiovascular activity of any kind is good for your heart and your overall health. But unfortunately, many higher-intensity cardiovascular workouts can also be really tough on your joints (think of how painful the impact is on your knees when you run on concrete, for example).
On the other hand, swimming presents a much better option for those who suffer from bone and joint issues, since the majority of your weight during this exercise is supported by water.
That allows you to get a vigorous workout without having to contend with the impacts of gravity that are present when you engage in land-based exercises like running, walking, and cycling.
Perhaps the best news here: not only is swimming easier on your joints, but it’s also been found to improve pain and stiffness among some populations that suffer from bone problems! In one study on adults with osteoarthritis, researchers found that regular swim training reduced joint pain and stiffness while also improving subjects’ muscle strength.
In addition, a meta-analysis found that among post-menopausal women (a population that is more prone to poor bone health), water-based exercises might not be as effective for improving bone health as land-based exercises, but they can still help, especially when compared to sedentariness.
All these reported benefits of water-based activity might explain the popularity of aqua-aerobics classes — which, incidentally, may have the added health benefit of helping older adults reduce their risk of falling, due to their ability to induce improvements in both gait and balance.
4. Swimming might be more accessible than other kinds of workouts
Exercise is one of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle. But unfortunately, there are various factors that might discourage someone from joining a gym, such as accessibility, uncertainty about how to use the equipment, or an overall negative impression of what it’s like to work out in a gym.
In these cases, swimming might be a more convenient and lower-pressure choice than a traditional gym or fitness class. Once you get the basics down, swimming is a fun exercise, no matter what your fitness level.
Even if you suffer from pre-existing injuries or health conditions that rule out land-based cardio and weightlifting routines, swimming can give you an enjoyable and pulse-raising cardiovascular workout.
For some people, it may be easier to gain access to a pool than it would be to join a gym. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have your own pool in the backyard, there are plenty of other options for going for a dip, and many of them are more affordable than joining an expensive fitness class.
For example, you could visit a public pool. With more than 300,000 public pools located throughout the United States, it’s likely that you’ll be able to find one near you without too much difficulty. Public pools are usually a fairly cost-effective option as well.
If you already happen to be a member of a fitness center, many gyms have on-site pools, making it convenient to add some laps to your regular workout routine.
Finally, there are also open bodies of water, like local rivers, lakes, and waterways, which you might be able to use to get your swimming exercise. However, if you decide to go this route, make sure that you are a confident swimmer and that conditions are safe before taking the plunge.
You’ll want to make sure that there aren’t any strong undercurrents or riptides. Generally, it’s best to have a lifeguard present, especially if you’re swimming in an open body of water.
5. All that physical activity ultimately adds up to better overall health
Lastly, participating in regular aerobic activity of any kind can keep you healthy and combat many of the factors that contribute to chronic disease. For example, swimming may help you manage your chronic health issues by improving a variety of biomarkers, including insulin resistance and inflammatory reactions in patients with metabolic syndrome.
Even better: a large study that followed adult men over the course of 32 years found that swimmers had a 49-53% lower all-cause mortality risk than other participants, including those who were walkers and runners!
How to add swimming to your workout routine
Swimming for exercise can be challenging, and it requires a certain level of skill and comfort in the water. So, if it’s been a while since you’ve hit the pool, it’s a good idea to brush up on your swimming skills before going all out.
For starters, make sure that you’re comfortable floating and know how to breathe properly while you’re swimming. You’ll also want to test your basic kicking and paddling skills, to ensure that your movements are coordinated.
If you aren’t totally confident in the water yet, it might be a good idea to take swimming lessons to help you master basic swimming skills before you plunge into higher-intensity workouts.
You may feel tempted to dive headfirst into a more challenging swimming routine from the very beginning, but it’s important to take it slow and steady at first until you’ve built more endurance.
What this might look like: start by doing one lap back and forth across the length of the pool, then rest for thirty seconds before going on to your second lap, then repeat. Once you’re comfortable doing this, you can gradually increase the number of laps you do before resting.
Experiment with different strokes and time yourself to increase the intensity
Finally, once you’re comfortable doing long laps in the pool, you can start really upping the intensity to get the most out of your pool time!
Some challenges you can add to your swimming routine include:
Experimenting with various strokes, like the butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke, to engage different muscle groups
Setting goals for how quickly you’d like to complete a lap, and timing yourself to track your progress
Doing aqua-aerobics between laps to keep your heart rate up
For even more of a challenge, consider joining a swimming competition or an event like a triathlon! You’ll be able to set specific training goals for yourself and get an excellent workout too.
Swimming is an accessible, challenging, and effective workout for people of all fitness levels and body types. Dive in, have fun, and get a great workout in the process!