Every exercise has its strengths, and we live in a time when every few weeks, a new exercise is touted as the best way to improve everything from your health to your waistline. Swimming is a bit of a stalwart in the ‘best exercises’ ranks, claiming to be good for just about everything. But what exactly are the health benefits of getting wet?
Any kind of exercise is good for you, let’s just start with that. In fact, the recently released American guidelines on physical activity state basically that; anything and just doing something has health benefits. Swimming though has a few unique properties that make it particularly attractive.
First of all, swimming is recommended for increasing your lung capacity. While regular swimmers sometimes have bigger lung volumes on testing than other athletes or people who don’t exercise, but research has shown that this can’t necessarily be attributed to swimming itself. It may be that swimmers self-select people who can deal with the intermittent breath holding that happens when swimming.
Some studies have even questioned whether recommending swimming for people with lung illnesses such as asthma may not be great due to the exposure to chemicals like chlorine in those who are vulnerable to it. However, other studies have shown swimming to induce asthma less than other sports in those with asthma and even show a small improvement in the lung function of people with asthma. It’s hard to say for certain either way though.
That being said, swimming is an excellent exercise to improve your cardiorespiratory function also known as your fitness. Just like any exercise is. When we exercise and use our muscles, our heart and lungs work harder to power those working muscles which results in our heart and lungs getting stronger.
Swimming, due to its weightlessness, may be useful for people who have joint issues, such as osteoarthritis. The lack of weight bearing is helpful to keep those who have pain with other forms of exercise moving in a way that may make their pain much more manageable. This means that people with arthritis can still get the benefits of exercise on their heart health for example, without having to upset their sore joints. Swimming uses a lot of muscles, different to walking, running or other sports which may be useful for keeping all of our joints and muscles healthy.
Swimming has been specifically shown to have some effect on mortality, cardiovascular disease and our weight but there aren’t a huge number of studies looking at swimming specifically. That being said, swimming just like any exercise, does help reduce blood pressure which is an important risk factor for heart disease and strokes.
The other vitally important part around swimming is that it is an important life skill. Being able to swim is vital especially in a country that spends a lot of time near water, and keeping safe in the water is something we can do if we’re decent swimmers.
All in all, swimming is a great exercise. In fact, it is one of my favourite exercises to do and I can often be found chasing the black line at my local pool. With any exercise though, the most important thing is to find something you enjoy doing, feel like you’re good at it and can keep it up. If swimming ticks those boxes for you, go for it. Otherwise, find something that can.