Why Swimming can do more than save lives.
As a swimming instructor, I very much believe that everyone should learn to swim, if only because it might save your life, or someone else’s, one day. There are other reasons that I am a fan of swimming too. In my experience, swimming has a whole host of physical, emotional and social benefits. Here are just a few:
The physical benefits of swimming
It’s good for your muscles
Because water is 12 times as dense as air, our bodies have to work harder to move through the water, although swimming is the only exercise where there is no stress on the skeletal system and you’re not restricted by the laws of gravity in the same way as you are on land.
As you have to work against the resistance of the water, swimming is more effective for muscle toning than any on-land cardio exercise. In fact, swimming is similar to using a light weight on a resistance machine at the gym but it actually gives more controlled, even resistance to a wider range of muscles.
It’s good for your breathing
In order to swim properly, you also have to regulate your breathing. Amazingly, the moisture in the air at a swimming pool or in the ocean makes it easier to breath than when the atmosphere is very dry. Swimming has been shown to increase lung capacity.
In 2009, a study in Respirology showed that a group of children on asthma went through a six-week swimming programme to explore the benefits of swimming for this critical illness. The study found the children experienced significant improvements in all the clinical variables, including symptoms, hospitalisations, A& E visits, and time off school. Other benefits included a reduction in asthma severity, mouth-breathing, snoring and chest deformity, and an improvement in self-confidence. These benefits were still evident up to 12 months after the six-week programme.
It’s good for your heart
Swimming can improve the blood flow around your body, strengthening, enlarging and making the heart become more efficient. The American Heart Association has found that just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day – swimming is ideal – can reduce coronary heart disease in women by 30 to 40%. It can also keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
It is also believed that swimming helps our arteries to expand and contract, keeping them fit and healthy, and that it can help boost our HDL levels – i.e. the ‘good’ cholesterol we need to stay well.
It’s good for your flexibility
Swimming is an excellent exercise to boost your flexibility as it uses a lot of muscles at the same time and requires a range of coordinated movements that are well supported by the water.
Each stroke has different benefits for your muscles but front crawl, in particular, uses arm and leg muscles not used by other forms of exercise. The act of stretching forward in the water can actually lengthen and stretch your muscles, improving your overall posture and suppleness.
It’s good for your bones
The heat from the pool can loosen your joints and muscles, and help prevent injury; in fact, research would suggest that swimming can be hugely beneficial for people with arthritis and various joint problems.
A 2003 study also showed swimming to improve bone density and strength in post-menopausal women.
It’s good for your weight
Swimming is one of the best calorie burners around. Although the amount of calories you burn when swimming will depend on your unique physiology and the intensity of your workout, it’s generally agreed that for every 10 minutes of swimming:
- Breaststroke burns 60 calories
- Backstroke burns 80 calories
- Front crawl burns 100 calories
- Butterfly burns an incredible 150 calories
It’s good for your life expectancy
Research by the University of South Carolina followed 40,457 men between the ages of 20 and 90 for more than four decades and found that the swimmers, regardless of their age, were 50% less likely to die during the study than walkers, runners or people who were inactive. They surmised from their research that women would experience the same benefits.
Swimming regularly can also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 Diabetes.
The mental benefits of swimming
“The experienced swimmer, when in the water, may be classed among the happiest of mortals in the happiest of moods, and in the most complete enjoyment of the happiest of exercises.”
So William Wilson wrote in his book entitled, The Swimming Instructor, in 1883.
Wilson was right – it would appear that swimming creates the same release of endorphins and positive feelings, known as ‘relaxation responses’, as you can expect from practising yoga. Stretching and contracting your muscles as you swim through the water can heighten this. As a result, swimming is an excellent activity to relax your mind and even to put you into a meditative state where you can unwind and focus on being present in the moment.
It’s good for anxiety and depression
Swimming is believed to promote ‘hippocampal neurogenesis’, which is the growth of new brain cells in the area of the brain that atrophies under chronic stress. Animal studies have shown the exercise that causes this process can be more effective for treating anxiety and depression than drugs like Prozac.
It’s good for your patience and persistence
Something we see when children learn to swim is that the process of attending classes over several weeks, months or even years shows the benefits of sticking with an activity until you become proficient. Being awarded certificates at different stages in their tuition shows children that their hard work is paying off and that they are making progress. This teaches an important lesson that with patience and persistence anything is possible.
The social benefits of swimming
One of the benefits of swimming that we promote, particularly in our baby and toddler classes, is having fun together. This is something that can continue as your child grows up and you go swimming as a family, on holiday, or with a friend.
Swimming can be a hugely sociable form of exercise where you chat, splash about, float, and generally enjoy some carefree time with your friends or family.
It’s good for bonding
Whether you come along to a swimming exercise class as an adult and find yourself chatting to other people in the pool, or you’re looking for an activity to do with your child, swimming is incredibly good for creating bonds and a sense of fellowship.
Have we missed anything out? What do you love about swimming? What do you see as the benefits? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below.