If you’re looking for exercise that improves heart and lung capacity, but is gentle on your joints, swimming is the top choice. Like other aerobic exercise such as running, it can improve cardiovascular fitness as well as cholesterol levels, provided that you can swim at a brisk pace. Don’t worry if you’re not that in shape yet, you can build up to that.
Several studies have found that swimming can improve your cardiac and respiratory systems. This is true even though swimmers tend to weigh more and have more body fat than runners or cyclists. Swimming is beneficial in this regard not only because it can provide an aerobic workout, but because the resistance provided by the water builds muscle (and muscle weighs more than fat), which helps with blood circulation.
Studies on the effects of swimming on weight have produced inconsistent results. While swimming burns a lot of calories; about 600 per hour, on average, depending on the stroke and intensity, recreational swimmers tend to lose less weight than other aerobic activities, such as running, cycling or brisk walking. This could be because cold water dissipates more heat from the body than air at the same temperature does, and there’s some evidence that this leads to increased appetite in the hours after swimming.
You’ll burn the most calories while doing the butterfly stroke or a fast crawl. Next in line are the breaststroke and backstroke, then the sidestroke. It’s always a good idea to do a few different strokes for a well-balanced workout.
Even if swimming doesn’t help you lose weight, it can help reduce body fat and waist size, while toning all your major muscles. Swimming is also a good way for runners and cyclists to cross-train, because it uses different muscles.
Swimming and water workouts get a “thumbs up” for people with arthritis or other musculoskeletal issues, especially if they are overweight. Exercising in warm water can relieve joint stiffness, and pain, and increase your flexibility. It’s easier to move around in water, and water brings relief by reducing the weight load on your knees and other joints.
Many types of exercise are good for back pain, but water workouts are among the best. A 2009 study found that aquatic exercise helped relieve chronic back pain better than a land-based program. Also in 2009, a review article in Clinical Rehabilitation found sufficient evidence to conclude that aquatic exercise is a safe and effective way to relieve chronic lower back pain. Working out in water is now known to reduce the stress on the spine, promotes muscle relaxation and improves joint flexibility.
Did you know that even a slow, smooth swim can burn over 200 calories in half an hour and a fast front crawl can burn as many calories as an 8 mph run? Because water is about 800 times denser than air, you can work harder, and burn more calories, while in the pool than out of it.