An Aquatic Workout: Swimming and Your Health

by Wellness Editor – MH

Some people tend to look down on senior citizens and older adults, believing them to physically frail, weak and incapable of leading active lifestyles. Such people have likely never heard of Diana Nyad. In September 2013, at the age of 64, Nyad completed a 110 mile, 53 hour swim from Florida to the shores of Cuba. As if that weren’t impressive enough, Nyad made her trek through shark infested waters – without the protection of a shark cage.

It goes without saying that Nyad is in excellent physical health. In fact, given her recent accomplishment, Nyad is likely in better shape than many people half her age. Of course, you don’t have to be a long distance swimmer to benefit from taking a dip in pool, lake or ocean. As shown by the following list, swimming is an efficient and fun way to lead an active lifestyle while simultaneously giving your body a tune up.


Working Out Without Wearing Down – A common lament among novice and frequent exercisers alike is post-workout aches and pains. This is certainly a valid complaint – running, jogging and strength training can all take their toll on the body’s muscles and bones. Swimming, in contrast, can provide much needed relief to sore joints, tendons and other bodily tissues.

While submerged in water, your body actually becomes lighter. The deeper you go into a pool (or ocean or lake, if that’s more your thing), the less weight is placed upon your joints. Specifically, being up to your waist in water reduces the amount of weight borne by your body by 50 percent. By submersing yourself up to your chest, only 25 to 35 percent of your weight is supported by your body. This figure slumps to 10 percent once you’re neck-deep in the pool.

With the surrounding water supporting so much of the body’s weight, the joints are given a reprieve from propping up the body. This break is especially appreciated by stiff muscles and sore joints, allowing them to recover while the body gets a workout from swimming laps.


A Boost In Muscle Mass – When it comes to gaining muscle mass, most people envision spending hours pumping iron the gym. While this is a tried-and-true method for bulking up, weight lifting certainly isn’t the only way to add muscle to your frame.

Water is twelve times as dense as air; in other words, it requires a good amount of force from your arms and legs to do laps in pool. Because your muscles are pushing back against a resisting force, swimming is classified as a resistance exercise, a label also assigned to weightlifting. All of those strokes eventually add up, strengthening the body’s muscles and bones simultaneously.


Increasing Your Flexibility – Swimming beats many other exercises hands-down when incomes to improving flexibility. Many resistance exercises focus on either a single muscle or a small group of muscles, meaning that most of the body remains idle during the exercise. In contrast, swimming requires contributions from your entire body; the arms move in arch-like patterns, the legs kick up and down and the head and torso twist in a steady pattern. These movements have the combined effect of making the body’s joints noticeably less stiff and rigid.


A More Efficient Heart – It’s no secret that heart problems take a heavy toll on the health of the American public. In 2010, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States. There are many factors that contribute to a weakened and diseased heart, among them being a lack of aerobic exercise.

Swimming qualifies as a textbook aerobic exercise, and thus greatly improves the condition and performance of the heart. A healthy heart is able to pump blood throughout the body with relatively little effort, reducing the amount of stress placed on this vital organ. Furthermore, research conducted by Columbia University Medical Center linked aerobic activity to reduced bodily inflammation. Inflamed tissues can cause fatty deposits to accumulate in the heart’s arteries, a process responsible for most cases of heart disease.

Tightening the Waistline – Over the last several decades, an increasing number of adults have struggled with getting rid of extra weight. As with adding muscle, swimming is often an afterthought when weight-burning activities are discussed. It doesn’t take much time to burn off a large number of calories while in the water; below are some common swimming strokes and the calories they expend over a ten-minute span:

Breast Stroke – 60 calories

Backstroke – 80 calories

Freestyle Stroke – 100 calories

Butterfly Stroke – 150 calories


It bears mentioning that the preceding numbers aren’t etched in stone. The total number of calories that you personally burn can vary based on the intensity of your workout. The size and shape of your body can also influence calorie burn off.

A Way to Breath Easier – There’s a good chance that, if you yourself don’t have asthma, you know someone who has. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 12 Americans have asthma, a figure that equates to roughly 25 million asthma sufferers. Adding insult to injury, treating asthma isn’t exactly cheap. When all of the related medical costs and missed work/school days are taken into account, asthma extracted $56 billion from the US economy in 2007.

Many asthmatics face significant limitations regarding physical activity. A strenuous workout in the dry atmosphere of a gym can easily induce asthma-related symptoms, or perhaps even a full blown asthma attack. Swimming pools, in contrast, allow asthmatics to exercise in a moist environment, significantly reducing the risk of an adverse physical reaction.

As an added bonus, there is some evidence to suggest that a regular swimming habit can alleviate an asthma patient’s symptoms. A study published in the scholarly journal Respirology noted that asthmatic children responded positively to a six-week swimming program. Specifically, the children exhibited less snoring, mouth-breathing and other asthma-related symptoms, and required fewer trips to the emergency room. In addition, the children continued to enjoy these health benefits one year after the program ended.


A Defense Against Diabetes – Another chronic condition that ravages the American public is diabetes. Most diabetics develop a form of the disease known as type 2 diabetes, a condition in which glucose (blood sugar) builds up within the blood stream. In turn, this can cause worrisome symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, blurred vision and numbness in the hands in feet. Patients with advanced cases of type 2 diabetes also face an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke.

This is where swimming can be very useful. One study found that men who burned off 500 calories via aerobic exercise reduced their diabetes risk by 6 percent. By spending 90 minutes per week engaging in breaststroke swimming, the same study found that the participants’ risk of diabetes dropped by 10 percent. Likewise, research has found that women who exercise vigorously once per week are 16 percent less likely to contract diabetes than sedentary women.

Related Stories

Parkinson’s Disease is one of the most devastating progressive diseases in existence. Those living with this condition can expect …