The health benefits of swimming

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

The health benefits of swimming. Picture taken during a Swimclan session at Scarborough Beach Pool, Perth, Western Australia.
Swimclan members Becca Sayers, Jamie Bagby and Bex Kirke at Scarborough Beach Pool

Ever wanted to lose weight, prevent your risk of chronic diseases, improve your mental health or get ripped without pumping weights?

Not only does swimming simultaneously provide more than just these benefits, it's a sport that works your body from head to toe, without the major soreness that follows a land or gym-based workout.

Rather than your joints taking up most of the impact which occurs during workouts on land, the water does this for you. It's why swimming is a sport for life and is highly recommended by health professionals, regardless of your age, health, experience or abilities.

It's also one of the highest calorie burners given it's a full body workout. Swimclan's Martin Smoothy, lost over 35kg in less than 12 months from just one swim session per day.

The biggest catch? He didn't change his diet. In fact, Martin ended up eating more food during that time and the weight still fell off him due to his high calorie burning!

The magical benefits of swimming seem to go on forever like Mary Poppins bag, but we've compiled some of the best findings for you below, backed up by recent scientific studies.

Swimming is a sport for life that can be attempted at any age, regardless of your fitness, age or abilities. Swimming can also decrease your risk or chronic diseases.
Swimming can provide health benefits to everyone, regardless of your age, ability or experience.

1. Swimming is low impact

Most of you would have experienced going to the gym after a lengthy absence, pumped out some weights and genuinely thought the soreness would end you over the next few days. Leg days and stairs are the worst combination since toothpaste and orange juice.

Yes, any exercise is good exercise. But weight training, cycling, running, kayaking, rowing, cross-fit, boxing and many other popular land-based workouts will leave you feeling sore, especially until your body adapts.

Why is swimming a great option? Because the water is supporting your weight, this takes an enormous amount of pressure off your joints and muscles. Your body is also pushing against the resistance of water, providing a greater workout with reduced repercussions.

Even though the body impact is lowered considerably, the heart rate stays high and allows a solid cardiovascular workout. It's also the best way to tone your muscles as nearly all are contracting at a sustainable, yet repetitive pressure.

Swimming is a great form of exercise as it reduces the amount of pressure on your joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles. It's the perfect low impact exercise.
Swimming is a great workout that's easier on your joints and muscles.

2. Best exercise for toning muscles

Where runners see isolated muscle build in their legs, swimmers will utilise and strengthen more muscle groups to move through the water. While the legs are kicking, the arms are pulling. As your shoulders and hips rotate, your core muscles such as the abdominals will tighten and stabilise to power the legs.

It's why Olympic level swimmers who train upwards of eight swim sessions per week look like chiseled muscular sculptures from Michelangelo. Their muscles are constantly working out aerobically with fast, repetitive contractions before stretching out. It's why swimmers are the most toned athletes on the planet.

Swimming is one of the best ways to tone your muscles and lose weight. If you want to lose weight and get shredded, swimming is a great low-impact form of exercise.
Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps and Cate Campbell have incredible muscle definition from years of swimming.

3. Swimming builds up bone mass

For years, scientists scoffed at the idea that swimming positively affected bone mass. It was believed for decades that only weight-bearing exercises were able to achieve this benefit.

According to recent studies, there is strong evidence proving that long-term adherence to swimming is one of the best exercises as treatment for osteoporosis. The study discovered that older populations who swim regularly increased their bone mass density over time.

Studies have also shown that swimming improves cardiopulmonary function and the body's antioxidant capacity while reducing the blood lipid levels.

It's why swimming is favoured by most health professionals as the best exercise for the elderly population who are most at risk to chronic diseases.

Swimming is found to positively affect bone mass density for those who may struggle with osteoporosis. Swimming can also greatly benefit the older population as it is a low-impact way of exercising the joints, ligaments and tendons of the body.
Swimming is a great way of reducing the risk and impact of osteoporosis in older populations.

4. Helps maintain flexibility

Swimming requires you to twist, rotate and pull your way through the water during your range of motion. Not only will a large majority of your muscles contract with each stroke, but they will also stretch out repeatedly following these contractions.

While swimming might not provide as much stretching on your muscles as yoga or pilates, the range of motion required with each stroke lengthens out your muscles in a way that improves your joint flexibility.

The muscles, ligaments and tendons remain loose as you move through the water. With every stroke as you reach forward, the body will lengthen, which not only makes you more efficient through the water, but it also helps give you a good stretch from head to toe.

The more flexible you are, the better your range of motion while you swim. A heightened flexibility will mean easier rotation, better ankle flexion for kicking and more water catchment with each stroke. It's why hyper-flexible swimmers such as Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe were so successful throughout their careers.

Ask any professional masseur who their favourite athletes are to massage and most will say swimmers. It's because the muscles are softer, more defined and easier to work on!

Swimming increases your flexibility over time and because of it's low impact on the muscles, is a great way to recover from injuries and soreness.
Because swimming requires you to rotate and reach forwards, your flexibility over time will improve.

5. Reduces inflammation

While swimming’s cardiovascular benefits of strengthening the heart muscle are common knowledge to scientists, research also indicates swimming reduces inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis build-up within the heart.

While swimming has wide cardiovascular benefits such as increasing the size of the heart muscle which leads to improved blood flow throughout your body, it also aids in muscle recovery.

Ever wondered why AFL teams swim the day after games? Swimming is one of the best ways to relax and recover sore muscles after heavy land-based exercises. It also produces lower levels of c-reactive protein in the muscles, which is linked to muscle inflammation.

Swimming is a great way to loosen the muscles and recover from soreness as it stretches out the muscles and allows small contractions to remove tension.
AFL teams will frequently jump in the pool or ocean following matches to loosen muscles and promote recovery.

6. One of the best calorie burners

Not only is swimming a full body workout, but most people don't realise that swimming burns a huge amount of calories. Even low intensity swimming can burn just as many calories as a high intensity run.

Depending on the stroke you choose and how fast you decide to swim, you can burn just as many or potentially more calories as you would on a treadmill. The reason for this is swimming requires you to move through the added resistance of water.

For example, in just 10 minutes of swimming, an average sized person will burn 60 calories swimming breastroke, 80 calories doing backstroke, 100 calories with freestyle and an impressive 150 calories swimming butterfly.

In perspective, running a 10-minute mile burns around 100 calories. Therefore, a strong 30-minute freestyle speed session can burn nearly double the calories than running five kilometres within the same time frame.

Even slow to moderate swimming burns up a huge amount of energy. An average sized person will burn through 255 calories in a 30-minute session of slow swimming. Around 140 calories is burned for the same amount of time walking and 295 calories for running.

For a high intensity swim, it's easy to burn off more than 350 calories in just 30-minutes. Hence why Martin is looking fitter than ever!

Swimming is a brilliant way to lose weight quickly and easily without adjusting your diet. Swimclan Director, Martin Smoothy, lost over 35kg in less than 12 months purely from swimming once per day without adjusting his diet. It is proof that swimming is one of the best calorie burners and methods of losing weight.
Swimclan Director, Martin Smoothy (centre), lost 35kg in less than 12 months solely from swimming once per day.

7. Improves energy induced asthma

There is nothing as frustrating as exercising with the negative presence of breathlessness or the fear of an asthma attack. Contrary to working out in dry gym air or having to brave seasonal pollen air during outdoor exercises, swimming allows you to breathe moist air while you train.

This means the warm, humid air is less provocative for asthmatics while they exercise. Not only does swimming help alleviate asthma symptoms, studies have shown that it can actually improve the overall condition of the lungs.

In a recent study, a group of asthmatic children that completed a six-week swimming program saw improvements in symptom severity, snoring and mouth-breathing. They also saw dramatically reduced hospitalisation and ER visits.

These benefits were still noted 12 months after the six-week swimming program ended. It's why the sport is a brilliant avenue for people with asthma to exercise without the stress of breathing difficulties. People who don’t have asthma benefit too as swimming increases overall lung-volume and teaches good breathing techniques.

It's why famous Olympic swimmers such as Ian Thorpe, Rebecca Adlington, Jo Jackson, Peter Vanderkaay, Adrian Moorehouse and many others excelled in the sport despite suffering from severe asthma.

Swimming is one of the best exercises for asthmatics. Swimming can reduce the symptoms of asthma and improve the respiratory performance in children and adults. Given it is performed in warm, humid environments, swimming also reduces the chances of asthma attacks during exercise.
Swimming is one of the best prescribed exercises for children and adults who suffer from asthma.

8. Great exercise for those with chronic diseases or disabilities

Heart disease, diabetes, stroke and arthritis are the leading causes of death in Australia. Thankfully, water-based exercises reduce the risk of all chronic diseases.

Swimmers slash their risk of death from chronic diseases in half compared to inactive people. Studies have shown that not only do people report enjoying water-based exercise more than exercising on land, but they found they could exercise longer in water without an increase in effort or joint and muscle pain.

When I worked in exercise rehabilitation for people suffering from chronic diseases or injuries, most of these workouts were conducted in the pool. Water therapy and swimming allows you to penetrate arthritic joints and manipulate scar tissue with minimal pressure.

Exercising in warmer water can also help decrease the painful side effects of arthritis and muscle pain while increasing flexibility. Even in chest-high water, your body is 80% weightless, hence why it is such a good exercise for people suffering from diseases, disabilities or injuries that need to take it easy.

Swimming is one of the best exercises for people who suffer from chronic diseases, asthma, mental health issues or disabilities. Because your body is supported by the water, this reduces the impact on muscles, joints and tendons, making swimming one of the best exercises for longevity.
Swimming is one of the best exercises for people suffering from chronic diseases and disabilities.

8. Increases your lung capacity

One unnoticed benefit of swimming is the profound effect it has on increasing your lung capacity over time. Average lung capacities for men is usually around 6 litres, while women generally sit at about 4.5-5 litres.

Years ago when I worked as an exercise scientist, I was amazed to see the effects a 15-year swimming career had on my lungs. We tested elite Olympic-level cyclists and the highest lung capacity recorded was 8 litres. I stepped up for fun, blew into the machine and was stunned to discover my lung capacity was 12.5 litres, which caused the doctors to reset the machine thinking it was broken!

During aerobic exercise, your heart rate naturally increases along with your breathing rate. Given swimming forces you to hold your breath while exercising, it triggers the muscle groups to perform more efficiently on less oxygen.

Over time, this is generally reflected in declines of your resting heart rate and breathing rate, as the heart muscle grows along with the volume of your lungs.

Recent studies have shown that swimmers have a larger capacity of the respiratory system when compared to their age-matched sedentary controls. It was proven that swimmers also achieve larger lung volumes and a higher functional cardiorespiratory system capacity compared to other athletes.

Swimming is also incredibly unique in that it allows you to choose low-frequency breathing. If you start breathing every 3, 4, 5 or more strokes, you'll notice over time the distance you can swim on these breathing frequencies will increase as the elasticity of your lungs stretches.

It means you will inhale and exhale more air with your body able to flush out more carbon dioxide, providing a faster recovery rate and fluent removal of lactic acid during high intensity workouts. This benefit carries across into every form of exercise you attempt.

Swimming is a great way to increase your lung capacity, heart size and breath hold. It also lowers your resting heart rate while improving your body's ability to exhale carbon dioxide.
Swimming helps increase the size of your lungs, heart muscle and breath hold, while lowering your resting heart rate.

9. Benefits mental health and improves focus

Love that natural endorphin kick after a workout? While many people talk about a runner’s high, the mental health benefits of swimming are just as grand.

Any exercise is going to help your mental health. Not only does swimming help you release the feel-good hormones, it helps reduce anxiety, depression and negative moods. It also has a profound effect on improving self-esteem and cognitive function while alleviating symptoms such as low self-esteem or social withdrawal.

In addition to toning your body and soaking in Vitamin D from the sun when swimming outdoors, taking a dip provides a relaxation response similar to yoga. As mentioned earlier, swimming stretches your body constantly. Combine this with a deep rhythmic breathing and you can experience a relaxation rush that’s very unique to swimming.

After a swim session, your ability to belt out your priorities improves, allowing you to block out distractions and concentrate on the tasks at hand. Over time, blood flow to the brain increases, cognitive memory improves and problem-solving skills are enhanced.

Swimming is a great way to avoid depression, anxiety and stress along with numerous other mental health issues.
Swimming provides relief from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and stress.

10. Swimming is proven to lengthen lives

While all exercise is directly linked to greater health and life longevity, studies point to swimming as one of the best choices for doing so.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina looked at 40,547 men, aged 20 to 90, for over 32 years. The results showed that those who swam regularly had a 50 percent lower death rate than runners, walkers, or men who had sedentary lifestyles.

Swimming in salt water also has numerous benefits for your skin and body. Elements of salt water activate the body's healing mechanisms over asthma, bronchitis, arthritis and localised aches and pains. Given salt water is also rich in magnesium, it also promotes the removal of stress, improves sleep patterns and relaxes your muscles.

So not only is swimming a sport that is for life, it helps you lengthen your own!

Swimming is proven to lengthen your life as it provides numerous physical and mental health benefits. Swimming lowers your risk to chronic diseases and mental health issues and can reduce the symptoms of chronic diseases over time.
Book a session with Swimclan to experience the mental and physical health benefits of swimming!

Want to discover the health benefits of swimming with Swimclan? Check out our session locations and times by booking a class here.

#healthylifestyles #swimmingisgood #jointheclan

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