Physical and Mental Benefits of Swimming as Low Impact Exercise

Even if you are only an average swimmer, you probably enjoy getting in the water. Whether you are doing laps in the pool, surfing at the beach or burning some calories with water aerobics, performing activities in the water can be refreshing and greatly beneficial to your health.

While swimming produces a wide variety of physical health benefits including greater stamina, strength, and flexibility, it also promotes stress relief, emotional peace and brain health. If you suffer from chronic pain, there are few forms of exercise that can do more for your pain condition than swimming.

How Swimming Improves Your Physical Health

Swimming is a great full-body workout because it uses so many muscle groups without putting too much strain on your joints. This low-impact exercise is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise that can burn up to hundreds of calories an hour even at a low or moderate pace. It is estimated that a 240 pound person could burn from 600 to 1100 calories an hour swimming at a vigorous rate, several times what would be spent walking, doing yoga, or on an elliptical trainer.

Water is 800 times more dense than air, so moving through it puts your muscles through quite a workout. The motion of swimming forces you to use almost every major muscle group in your arms, legs, and core. The constant motion against such sustained resistance helps promote strength, muscle tone and metabolic performance.

If you are looking to improve your cardiovascular systems which includes your heart, lungs and circulatory system, then swimming is ideal. This low-impact form of exercise puts you through a comprehensive CV workout without putting much strain on your joints.

Swimming is a great form of exercise for people of all ages. Even if you are older, you may find that swimming is quite vigorous yet soothing. Older people find that their natural buoyancy makes this exercise easier and more pleasurable. It is also quite enjoyable for youngsters who are just learning the basics of moving in the water.

If you suffer from insomnia, swimming may help. Studies show that the more you swim, the better you sleep. Some of that is related to enjoying a full-body workout, but swimming also helps reduce stress and relaxes you physically and mentally.

Finally, swimming is perhaps the perfect sport for people with health conditions like arthritis or plantar fasciitis because it places so little strain on your joints and lower limbs. People with all kinds of chronic pain conditions respond positively to water immersion, and there are many benefits to the low-impact workout including improved strength, greater flexibility and pain mitigation.

The Mental Benefits of Swimming

Although humankind has been swimming for eons, many of the benefits of swimming on the mind are only now coming to light. One survey of 1,200 swimmers found that 74 percent experienced a reduction of stress and tension, while 70  percent said swimming mentally refreshed them. One case study of a 24-year old woman with major depressive disorder found that she experienced symptom relief after just a few weeks, and she was completely off of medications within two years.

Health researchers are still exploring the relationship between the water and mental health. There is growing support for the idea that being in or near water produces positive psychological changes. One study has even found a link between video imagery of water and mood elevation.

All forms of exercise help promote the production of natural pain killers called endorphins. Endorphins act on the brain to block pain, but they also help lift your mood. Swimming does this, but it also seems to boost key neurotransmitters in your brain, namely serotonin, noradrenalin, and dopamine that elevate mood and curtail stress.

Swimming also appears to boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor which is a protein that is instrumental in the survival, growth, and maintenance of neurons. Studies with rats and fish show that swimming in particular can elevate BDNF levels. Preliminary research suggests that BDNF may slow the development of cognitive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

One underappreciated aspect of swimming is how mentally demanding it is. It takes a great deal of concentration to maintain proper breath control and stroke production. This intense mental effort can help you detach from everyday stress and unhealthy thought processes. In turn, this reduces stress and soothes your mind.

Speaking of proper breathing, swimming helps ingrain full, rhythmic breathing that helps counteract anxiety and panic. For people who suffer from panic attacks, swimming can be a powerful therapy because of this breath training.

Another important way that swimming helps cognition is by promoting blood flow to the brain. Some studies suggest that merely immersing yourself in water is enough to promote blood circulation which improves memory, concentration, mood, and cognition. One study even concluded that swimming can help reverse brain damage to the hippocampus that is caused by stress; because the hippocampus is essential for learning and memory, swimming can promote these functions.

How to Start a Swimming Routine

Before you jump into the pool, you should first consult with your doctor. If you have any health conditions, your physician may have some recommendations on how best to proceed. They may also want to monitor your progress.

If your doctor approves, you should start swimming only for a few minutes at a time. At least in the early stages, you should monitor your heart rate. If you exceed (220 – your age) beats per minute, then you should stop immediately.

As you get accustomed to the training routine, you may want to incrementally lengthen your time in the water. You may want to include 30 seconds of rest between laps so that you don’t push yourself too hard.

Some people enjoy one kind of swimming stroke to another, while others prefer to use a variety of strokes in their exercise regimen. You may want to mix it up and see what works best for you.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.