A 10,000 year old prehistoric cave rock painting from the southwestern part of Egypt show original documentation of people
swimming. The images seem to show the dog paddle or breaststroke, but these may have been more ritualistic than anything. Image courtesy of Archives Archaeology. Of course, anciently, swimming was done because it was actually necessary for survival. Although humans have been swimming for thousands and thousands of years, mainly for survival or, just as important, to catch fish for food, swimming only became a competitive sport in the early 1800s.
Today, swimming is the second most-watched sport in the Olympic Games only surpassed by gymnastics. In 1875, Matthew Webb ignited public interest in swimming when he became the first person to swim across the English Channel. Swimming only breaststroke, it took him more than 21 hours to complete this feat. Thirty-one years would pass before another person would successfully swim across the Channel.
Understandably, the emphasis is now on how swimming is good for exercise. Swimming has been called the perfect exercise. After all, you get all the benefits of an aerobic workout without any damaging impact on joints, and it can be done by both the very old and the very young. According to Wikipedia,
aerobic exercise (also known as cardio), is physical exercise of low and high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic-generating process. Aerobics means relating to, involving or requiring from oxygen, and refers to the use of oxygen, to adequately meet energy demands during exercise vis aerobic mechanism.
It is utilized by athletes to stay strong and keep fit when recovering from injury, and there’s no fancy equipment needed, and by small children just playing. It’s just you and the “deep blue”. Throughout your entire life, no matter what your fitness level, the general benefits of swimming are yours to go out and grab and make your own. It has the power to give your muscles a makeover, transform you into a cardio king, turn back the clock, and calm you quicker than a secluded beach in the Bahamas.
This study, published in the International Journal Of Aquatic Research and Education, by looking at death rates of active people, clearly shows how swimming benefits you health-wise your entire life. Research showed deaths among 40,547 men ages 20 to 90. Over an average of 13 years of follow-up, only 2% of the swimmers died, compared with 8% of runners, 9% of walkers, and 11% of couch potatoes. These statistics alone should get your attention!
Another study, sighted in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine, commissioned by Swim England, the national governing body for swimming in England, particularly highlights the benefits of swimming and aquatic activities for people with mental health concerns or problems with their joints and muscles. Jane Nickerson, Swim England CEO, said:
It is evident from the report that swimming has enormous potential to support the health and wellbeing of the nation.
Entire Body Workout
Swimming provides an all-over body workout, as nearly all of your muscles are used during swimming, improving cardiovascular conditioning, muscle strength, endurance, posture, and
flexibility, even breathing, and manages weight, all at the same time. Your cardiovascular system in particular benefits because swimming improves your body’s use of oxygen without overworking your heart. Harvard Medical School reviewed one study which compared blood pressure, cholesterol levels, maximum energy output, and other measures of cardiovascular health across nearly 46,000 male and female walkers, runners, swimmers, and couch potatoes.
Swimmers and runners had the best numbers, followed fairly closely by walkers. Obviously, none-exercisers had the highest weights and resting heart rates and the worst cholesterol levels and overall fitness. As you become fitter, with more stamina, and are able to swim longer, your resting heart rate and respiratory rate will be reduced, making blood flow circulation to the heart and lungs more efficient.
It can help reduce and possibly prevent high blood pressure, which lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke, and increases lung capacity, improves control of breathing and increases life expectancy. The National Institutes Of Health (NIH) in one meta-analyses indicated that both endurance sports, running and swimming, as well as yoga decrease the Resting Heart Rate (RHR), which is vitally important for life-long health. Quoting the NIH study,
In summary, exercise-related decrease of RHR may contribute to—or at least indicate—increasing life expectancy.
While on the subject of breathing, it has long been said that swimming is the best exercise for persons with asthma, and with good reason. The air that you breathe while swimming is usually warm and moist and so the effect of exercise on the breathing tubes is less, preventing whizzing and chest tightness. Research suggests that swimmers have half the mortality rate of inactive people.
An NIH study from 2016 indicates that swimming can help to lower blood pressure and control blood sugar levels. If you’re looking to lose weight, swimming is just the ticket. On average, a swimmer can burn as many calories in an hour as a runner who runs six miles in one hour, or about 270 calories in an hour. While we’re comparing swimming and running, another NIH study looked at the ability of good swimmers holding their breath, expanding lung capacity and gaining control over breathing, showing better results than runners lung function.
A 20-week hydrotherapy swimming program resulted in significant reduction of pain for people with MS, according to this NIH study. These people also showed improvements with symptoms like fatigue, depression, and disability. As we said earlier, some call swimming the perfect form of exercise, and it is!
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
You don’t have to be a water sign in the zodiac to feel the meditative and healing properties of water.
Swimming is extremely relaxing because it allows more oxygen to flow to your muscles and forces you to regulate your breathing. It’s also a great way to relieve stress, according to Speedo Swimwear in this press release.
New international research commissioned by the world’s leading swimwear brand, Speedo, has revealed that swimmers agree that swimming helps to release stress and tension, makes them more confident about the way they look and leaves them feeling mentally refreshed.
The research conducted by leading research specialists Ipsos MORI assembled the views of a global panel of swimmers aged between 16-45 across key markets and including a wide cross section of swimmers from those who swim only occasionally to those who swim regularly as part of a vigorous exercise regime, to evaluate the psychological benefits of regular swimming.
The results revealed that: 74% agreed that swimming helped relieve stress and tension, 68% said being in water made them feel good about themselves, and over two-thirds said it has a positive mental impact, with 70% agreeing it helped them feel mentally refreshed. Sports psychologist Julie Jonston added:
The feeling of ‘freedom’ whilst in the water has long been one of the key appeals behind all forms of swimming, and the results of this survey offer a clear indication that swimming not only provides an effective physical workout, but can also actively improve mentality and self-perception, making it the ideal exercise for both body and mind.
Our bodies are made up of about 60% water, so no one should wonder how swimming is good for exercise,
and why some feel such a draw to water. Swimming promotes a better quality of life by releasing endorphins in the brain, the pleasure hormone, boosting mood and memory, particularly in individuals with dementia. A 2014 National Institutes Of Health pilot study involving individuals with dementia showed that those who swam regularly in a 12-week period showed improvement in mood.
Less Risk Of Physical Injury
There is a low risk for swimming injuries because there’s no stress on your bones, joints or connective tissues due to buoyancy and the fact that you weigh 1/10th less in water. The exception being, competitive swimming, which can have risks of musculoskeletal injury. An NIH study looked at whether aquatic exercise reduced hip and knee joint loading or stressing compared to the same physical activity on land. The study confirmed the load reducing effect of water during weight-bearing and dynamic exercises. Nevertheless, high drag forces result in increased joint contact forces and indicate greater muscle activity, as well. If you’re looking for a safe daily workout routine, swimming is ideal because you can rigorously work out with a reduced chance of swimming injuries.
Swimming works many muscle groups at the same time, ranging from your core to your legs and arms, and water does this by providing resistance for your muscles to work against. You can maximize the number of muscles you work by varying the kinds of strokes you perform. Bjorn Harald Olstad, a swimming instructor at the Norwegian School Of Sports Sciences, said swimming is very effective for getting in shape, because it works the body’s many different muscles in a gentle way. Bjorn said,
It’s an activity that works the whole body: arms, legs and not least core muscles, belly and back.
For example, breaststroke uses mostly back muscles and requires abduction and adduction of the legs, whereas front stroke engages chest muscles along with the back muscles, and works glutes, hamstrings, and quads for the flutter kick of the legs.
Second, swimming works to build lean muscle, which improves your metabolism. And third, and most important, water takes pressure off of your joints, making swimming a viable workout for anyone, even those with injuries, including arthritis and joint weakness that come with age. In fact, a study in Journal Of Rheumatology showed improved function, reduced pain, improved muscle strength and functional capacity, in middle-aged and older adults after swimming and cycling training in patients with osteoarthritis.
Many athletes supplement their training with swimming. According to the NIH, even pregnant women benefit from swimming or low-impact aerobic activities in cool water
because it helps strengthen the shoulder and abdominal muscles, which can be strained when carrying a baby, due to the fact that is a low-impact physical activity. Here is a full-body workout in a pool video (A)with no lap swimming or special swimming equipment. Anna Renderer takes us through a calorie busting slew of moves that even have her petite frame breathing hard and toning muscle.
Improved Sleep Quality
As a clinical psychologist and sleep researcher at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Kelly Glazer Baron frequently heard complaints from aggrieved patients about exercise. They would work out, they told her, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, but they would not sleep better that night. Dr. Baron, confounded, delved into it, and found that the stress of exercise actually worsened the condition.
Baron asserts that patients with insomnia suffer from a ’hyper-arousal’ of their stress system. He explains that since exercise is a physical stressor, it only makes sense that patients in his study reported less energy after a night of sleeplessness, found it more difficult to stick to their exercise regime, and the cycle continued.
Swimming, however, has the ability to break that cycle both mentally and physically. Sensory deprivation, a complete lack of stress on the body, stretching, fat burning, muscle building, weight loss, combating depression, all of these powerful aspects of swimming are sure to help you sleep more soundly. So whether you’re currently doing a few laps a week or you haven’t floated in anything bigger than your bathtub for years, swimming is hands down the best way to beat late night insomnia blues.
A study by The National Institutes Of Health involving older adults with insomnia, reported improved sleep in
those who received aerobic physical activity routinely, and stated:
Aerobic physical activity with sleep hygiene education is an effective treatment approach to improve sleep quality, mood and quality of life in older adults with chronic insomnia.
Improves Social Skills
Low-impact activity and fun, swimming is a wonderful exercise for almost any individual, or even better in a group. Swimming can enhance teamwork skills. When you’re taught to swim in a class or on a team, you learn to work with others. You learn from an instructor or by helping others learn, and then you learn to work together to meet your own and team goals. These communication skills carry to all aspects of your life. Skills like these really sink in when kids are having fun too.
People who swim from an early age are more confident and experience better emotional health and well being. A 2010 Sage Publication “Journal Of Sport and Social Issues” study, looked at children learning how to swim at a young age and the social and personal development benefits derived. Swimming is a confidence-building sport. Besides the obvious physical benefits of swimming, the independence acquired with increased swim skills are a confidence boost for children.
According to this article by Johnston-University Of North Carolina, learning swimming at an early age has many health and well being benefits, beginning in youth. Visual-motor skills are also vastly above their peers, including delicate tasks like cutting with scissors or coloring in the lines.
Swimmers seem to find it easier to develop social skills. Water has always been a place of social interaction for humans. Lakeside, ocean side, or poolside, they’re great places to gather with friends and family. Not only does this socializing lead to better mental health, but it gives us a chance to develop our own social skills in a casual setting. Children who learn to swim early on, also develop social skills more quickly than their peers. Engaging in activities outside of school helps children learn social and emotional
skills to help them learn how to navigate the world. It’s imperative to the social well-being of children, which includes adults too, to learn how to healthily manage emotions, show empathy, build positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
Mindfulness and Better Cognitive Ability
Mindfulness and a calm mind occurs while swimming. Besides the biochemical benefits of swimming, some swimmers find with every arch of their arms or turn of their head, a rhythmic pattern emerges with their breathing. With repeat practice, swimming works to calm the mind and can help teach kids to overcome pervasive thought patterns.
Swimming can enhance cognitive functions, as well. By decreasing inflammation and insulin resistance in the brain, exercise fosters new cell growth. In fact, according to Professor Robyn Jorgensen from Griffith University, in Australia,
children in swimming schools appear to be more advanced in terms of their development. It is also known to foster healthy physiological function, reducing anxiety and relieving stress.
Another study “Regular Exercise Changes the Brain To Improve Memory, and Thinking Skills,” completed by the Harvard School of Medicine, concluded
ability to reduce
insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors, such as the chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Benefits Of Natural Water Swimming
There has been research done showing that regular immersion in cold water is a mild stressor and immune stimulant, increasing white blood cell count, an important part of our immune system. Seawater is full of minerals, amino acids, trace minerals, and has a composition that is much the same as our blood plasma. To quote Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, who developed the gut and autoimmune healing GAPS protocol:
GAPS people should swim in the natural waters of lakes, rivers and the sea instead of the toxic chemical soup of swimming pools. Natural waters are full of life, biological energy from plants and different creatures, minerals, enzymes, and many other beneficial substances. Swimming in natural waters has been prized as a therapy for many health problems for centuries. Obviously, you have to make sure the water you swim in is as far as possible from any source of industrial pollution.
Besides, when you’re out in nature swimming, you have more of a
tendency to play and experiment more. According to the National Institute of Play, play generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.
The Incredible Benefits Of the Natural World
Have you ever thought about the universe and the natural world, and how it has functioned almost perfectly since the dawn of time? Everything in a virtual complete balance, from the life-giving air we breathe; to the fertile ground which supports the growth of healthy nutrient-rich domestic and wild animal foods we eat (1), and also the nutritious plant foods and the medicinal herbs and spices we eat (1), play on, camp on, garden in, exercise on, and live on, and any of the
other activities you can think of; to the pristine waters we drink, play, swim, and bathe in, and, at the same time, providing a home for the boundless healthy fish and seafood we also eat (1). Is there any doubt why every human shouldn’t be spending as much time in our natural world and being a good steward and supporting and protecting it, as much as humanly possible, because, after all, our life, health, and well being depends on it?
We hope reading “How Swimming Is Good For Exercise” has made an impact on you on the health and well being importance of swimming, particularly out in nature. Your comments and questions are welcomed below.
(1) Link to reviews providing more information on these healthy nutrient-dense foods and purchase any or all of them.
(A) Pop Sugar Fitness Video