Health Benefits

Swimming offers something no other aerobic exercise does: the ability to work your body without harsh impact to your skeletal system. When the human body is submerged in water, it automatically becomes lighter. When immersed to the waist, your body bears just 50 percent of its weight; dunk yourself to the chest and that number reduces to around 25 to 35 percent; with water all the way to the neck, you only have to bear 10 percent of your own weight. The other 90 percent is handled by the pool.

In its recommendation for the right types of exercise for people with arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation suggests those that stretch muscles, those that strengthen muscles, and those that provide an aerobic workout. A few laps in the pool combine all three!

If the pool is heated, so much the better for arthritis sufferers, as the warm water can help loosen stiff joints. In fact, people with rheumatoid arthritis receive greater benefits to their health after participating in hydrotherapy than with other activities. It’s also been proven that water-based exercise improves the use of affected joints and decreases pain from osteoarthritis [source: CDC].

Natacio

Ever see a flabby dolphin or a weak-looking competitive swimmer? We didn’t think so. That’s because swimming is a great way to increase muscular strength and muscle tone — especially compared to several other aerobic exercises.

Take running, for example. When a jogger takes few laps around the track, that jogger is only moving his or her body through air. A swimmer, on the other hand, is propelling himself through water — a substance about twelve times as dense as air [source: Yeager]. That means that every kick and every arm stroke becomes a resistance exercise — and it’s well known that resistance exercises are the best way to build muscle tone and strength.

There’s yet another bonus of a watery workout: Swimming has also been shown to improve bone strength — especially in post-menopausal women [Source: Huang, et al.].

Unlike exercise machines in a gym that tend to isolate one body part at a time (like a bicep curl machine, for example), swimming puts the body through a broad range of motion that helps joints and ligaments stay loose and flexible. The arms move in wide arcs, the hips are engaged as the legs scissor through the water, and the head and spine twist from side to side. Plus, with every stroke, as you reach forward, you’re lengthening the body, which not only makes it more efficient in the water, it also helps give you a good stretch from head to toe.

To improve your flexibility beyond the natural gains you’ll make by swimming, you might also want to finish your pool workout with a series of gentle stretches. The support of the water should help you maintain positions involving tricky balance — such as a quadriceps stretch — for longer periods of time.

In addition to toning visible muscles like pectorals, triceps and quads, swimming also helps improve the most important muscle in our bodies: the heart.

Because swimming is an aerobic exercise, it serves to strengthen the heart, not only helping it to become larger, but making it more efficient in pumping — which leads to better blood flow throughout your body. Research also shows that aerobic exercise can combat the body’s inflammatory response as well — a key link in the chain that can lead to heart disease [source: Columbia University Medical Center].

If that’s not enough to get you moving in the pool, the American Heart Association reports that just 30 minutes of exercise per day, such as swimming, can reduce coronary heart disease in women by 30 to 40 percent. Additionally, an analysis by the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that regular aerobic exercise could reduce blood pressure [source: Bobalik].