Health benefits of swimming – for mind and body

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If you’re looking for a way to boost your fitness now the warmer weather is rolling around, it might be time to give your local swimming spot some love.

You might not have swum laps since school, but there are plenty of great benefits to taking to the water as an adult.

Swimming is an all-body workout that can leave you not just physically stronger but mentally recharged too; experts say it can soothe stress, boost physical endurance and burn serious calories.

The beach or pools – even heated pools – may not be high on the list of places you want to be right now, but with spring around the corner, it’s the perfect excuse to dig out your goggles and take the plunge.

Not convinced yet? Here are just some of the brilliant benefits of swimming.

1. It’s low impact and easy on the joints
Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, and swimming is a great all-rounder with multiple health benefits – no matter your age, physical ability or fitness level.

“It’s particularly helpful if you experience joint pain in your knees,” says LloydsPharmacy pharmacist Anshu Kaura. “The water supports your body, meaning there is less impact on the skeletal system, including joints. Gentle swimming or water aerobics can also help strengthen muscles around your joints, reducing the impact of aches and pains over time.”

Ms Kaura adds that not only is swimming a great low impact exercise option, but strengthening your muscles can help reduce the degenerative impact of joint pain in the future. “Warm pools are particularly beneficial,” she adds, “as the heat can help loosen stiff joints, supporting flexibility.”

2. It’s a whole-body workout
There’s a reason many fit and healthy people get out of breath after just a couple of laps in the pool. “It’s basically an all-round form of exercise, which keeps your heart rate up, improves cardiovascular fitness, as well as building endurance and muscle strength,” says Scott McDougall, co-founder of The Independent Pharmacy.

Swimming utilises nearly all muscles in the body, including often under-worked areas of your arms. Not only does it engage your legs, which need to kick to propel you forward, it also recruits your core strength, and the lats, deltoids and traps.

“Swimming is unique, as alternating between different strokes lets you target specific muscle groups with your swimming workout,” adds Mr McDougall.

Think of the water as your own personal gym. Unlike other popular forms of exercise such as running and cycling, where there’s little variety, with swimming you can potentially pick different strokes to influence the intensity and focus of your sessions.

3. There are mental benefits too
We all know exercise-induced endorphins can help blitz away stress, but simply being in the water can have its own restorative benefits.

According to a poll, conducted in 2018 in the UK by the national governing body for swimming, 492,000 British adults with mental health issues said that swimming had resulted in a reduction in the number of visits to their medical doctors. The same poll showed that more than 490,000 people had reduced or stopped taking their medication, thanks to their swimming activity. Not only that, but the answers of about 3.3 million people with mental health problems, who were swimming at least once every 2–3 weeks, showed the following results:

  • 43 per cent said that swimming made them feel better
  • 26 per cent were more motivated to complete daily tasks
  • 15 per cent said that life felt more manageable.

It’s thought that being in water can help ease sensory overload on our nervous system, helping to promote feelings of calm and relaxation, according to a study published in the Journal of Pain Research last year.

4. It supports weight management
“Swimming can help you to maintain a healthy weight, or lose weight as part of a wider plan,” says Mr McDougall. “In fact, you can expect to burn around 200–400 calories per half-hour of swimming, depending on your speed, stroke and weight.”

The butterfly is probably the hardest stroke to learn but is said to be highly effective (although not always popular with other pool users due to the splashing!). If you’re new to swimming, it’s a good idea to start off small and build up your swimming levels at a pace that works for you. Even 15-minute sessions of gentle breaststroke can have benefits. If you’re not confident with your stroke, adult swim lessons are available nationwide.

5. It’s good for all ages
One of the best things about swimming is that anyone can reap the benefits – and you can keep it up at any age.

Unlike many trendy HIIT workouts that are popular at boutique gyms right now, swimming feels more inclusive to all ages and fitness levels, and you don’t have to be an amateur athlete to enjoy it.

“The bottom line is that regular swimming is great for everyone; studies have found it can help you lead a healthier, longer life and reduce your risk of developing many major health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes,” says Mr McDougall.

“It’s very good for those who aren’t particularly active, have injuries or are a bit older. So whatever your fitness level, age or ability, it’s an accessible way to keep fit.”

Do you swim regularly? Are you a pool or ocean/bay swimmer? What benefits do you get from swimming?

– With PA

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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Total Comments: 6
  1. 0

    I do aqua aerobics 4 times a week. And when my local pool opens next week i start lap swimming also … usually 2kms twice a week. At 60 I gained my teacher license and when Covid Is gone will begin teaching youngsters swimming. The beach is my church. It lifts me and keeps me healthy in every aspect.

    • 0

      Wow MJM, I find that really inspiring. I love swimming and love how I feel afterwards but still don’t put the time aside to do it regularly (especially in the winter). The weather is looking lovely this week, so I’m going to get to the beach for a morning swim today! I hope you have a lovely day.

    • 0

      Very inspirational MJM!

  2. 0

    Aged 75 I swim 1500m five time per week. While I agree with the article, what it ignores is that because swimming is not weight bearing, it does not address the problem of osteoporosis.

    • 0

      That’s amazing dstark! Do you have any tips for committing to five times per week? I love how swimming makes me feel but definitely don’t do it enough.
      Thanks for the info about swimming and osteoporosis, I didn’t come across that in my research but know to look into it more for next time. Have a great day.

  3. 0

    I started swimming again about 6 years ago. I am 71. I used to swim competitively when young and played water polo in the ADF. Now I swim 6 mornings a week and do 1100 metres. My pool is either the Riverway Lagoon in Townsville in summer or a heated pool at a school. Ellie, find a pool either heated or wait till it is warmer, get up early (0600) and get into it. After a period of time you will want to go swimming rather than vedge out.



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