Swimming for Low Impact Exercise

We all began life swimming, so it isn’t that surprising that so many of us feel most at ease in a warm bath or in a swimming pool.  We are composed of mostly water, so it is our primal element.  Plus, there are many reasons why water is such an ideal medium for exercise including diminished strain on our joints, natural heat removal and the perfect amount of resistance for a workout.

If you are looking for a new way to burn off some calories without the heavy impact of jogging or calisthenics, then swimming or other water fitness may be just what you are looking for.  Swimming is also quite common among chronic pain sufferers because of how the water soothes aching muscles and joints.

Swimming doesn’t have to be a sport; it can be recreational. In the U.S., almost one out of five people have gone swimming in the last 12 months. It is also important to remember that swimming is an essential survival skill that everyone should know.

The Benefits of Swimming

There are many reasons why you should include swimming in your fitness program including

  • Full body workout—swimming uses a wide array of muscles including neck, shoulders, back and legs.  You can also modify your swimming style to use various muscle groups.
  • Great cardio—if you are primarily interested in improving your endurance, then there are few exercises as good as swimming for you. Much of the health benefits derive from intense use of heart and lungs which strengthens them and makes them more efficient.
  • Aesthetic improvement—swimming helps burn fat and strengthen muscles throughout the body, making you look fitter and leaner.
  • Improves core strength—because you are powering your legs to propel through the water, you are focusing on your stomach and back.
  • Low impact—many people who have joint conditions like arthritis or injury find that swimming and other water activities provide enough gentle resistance for a vigorous workout but without the powerful impacts that would detriment their health condition.
  • Calorie burner—it is estimated that a 160 pound person could burn from 420 to 700 calories an hour swimming, depending on the pace.  A 240 pound person can expend from 600 to 1,050 calories swimming for an hour. That is twice as efficient as walking and is much more effective than yoga or elliptical training.
  • Improved sleep—there is little doubt that robust exercise enhances sleep, but swimming is especially beneficial for sleep. Because swimming uses almost the entire body, relaxing is significantly easier and thus sleep is more easily attained.
  • Enhanced mood—vigorous exercise like swimming promote production of endorphins. These hormones not only help neutralize pain, but they also help elevate mood. In other words, exercising will help combat stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Improves cognitive function—a new study that compared kids who took swimming lessons with those that didn’t, found that the swimmers had better linguistic skills, fine motor skills, and physical development.
  • Longer lives—a study from the University of South Carolina that examined records of more than 40,000 men over a 32 year period and found that swimmers had a 50 percent lower death rate than those who didn’t swim.

Who Can Swim

Because we spent the first nine months of our lives swimming in the womb, most of us are surprisingly comfortable with water activities. Unlike many other fitness programs that may exclude some kinds of people due to infirmity, swimming can accommodate almost anyone. Here are just some of the people who can enjoy swimming.

  • People with asthma—it may not appear that swimming with its heavy dependency upon breathing would good for asthmatics, but the high humidity actually counters asthma.  Furthermore, swimming helps increase lung capacity and breath control.
  • Multiple sclerosis sufferers—people with MS often benefit from swimming because of the buoyancy and low resistance. A study found that MS patients that completed a 20-week swimming program experienced significant pain reduction as well as a drop in fatigue and depression.
  • Pregnant women—water therapy is increasingly popular among pregnant women due to the many benefits for mothers and their unborn child. Some studies show that swimming helps fetal brain development.
  • Children—swimming is an excellent way to encourage regular exercise in children. Most kids find that swimming is fun in addition to providing a way to burn off excess energy.
  • Osteoporosis patients—new studies show that swimming can increase bone mineral density. For osteoporosis sufferers, this can help maintain a healthy bone mass without the jarring impacts of running.
  • Arthritis sufferers—in addition to strengthening muscles around joints, swimming also improves flexibility and reduces inflammation.  Both of these benefits help improve joint function, slowing the progress of this disease.

How to Start Your Swimming Program

If you want to make swimming part of your life, there are some things to consider.

  • Learn to swim—if you don’t know how to swim, you can still learn no matter your age or physical condition. Even if you already know how to swim, it may be a good idea to brush up on your technique with an instructor.
  • Equipment—it doesn’t take much to start swimming, but you may need more than just a swimsuit.  You may want to get some goggles, fins or flotation devices.
  • Choose a body of water—most communities have a local pool that you can do laps in, but you may want to use a lake or the ocean. A pool offers more safety and consistency, but you will have more freedom on an open body of water.
  • Pick a good time—depending on your body and personal schedule, you should pick a time to swim that will allow you to have up to 30 minutes of exercise. Some people enjoy working out in the mornings, while others enjoy swimming more in the afternoon or evening.
  • Start slow—initially, you should swim for only short periods, followed by rest. Until you build up your endurance, plan on only swimming for one minute periods.

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. 

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