When most of us think of exercise, images of long runs on the treadmill or lifting heavy weights often come to mind. But while both are great ways to stay fit, they’re not for everyone.

So if you’re someone who’s trying to stay fit but can’t stand the gym, it might be time to try something different: swimming. Not only is this workout a fun change from your usual routine, but it comes with many benefits that rival even the most intense gym workouts.

1. It is good for cardiorespiratory health.

Swimming just a few times a week can be a great way to boost many aspects of your cardiovascular fitness – which can help reduce your risk of heart disease and death from any cause.

For example, one study found that swimming 40-50 minutes three times a week for three months increased aerobic fitness. This improvement in aerobic fitness can also be seen in young children and older adults who swim regularly.

Swimming has also been shown to improve heart health, even in people diagnosed with coronary heart disease and hardened arteries.

2. It creates specific types of power.

Because water is denser and more viscous than air, it adds resistance to our movements. This would explain why swimming can help improve many different aspects of strength.

Research shows that regular swimmers have greater respiratory muscle strength than groups that do cycling or running programs. Respiratory muscle strength is the pressure your breathing muscles can generate when you breathe in or out. Thus, swimming may be recommended for people with chronic respiratory disease where respiratory muscle strength needs to be improved or maintained. And, the longer you swim, the more strength improvements you’re likely to see.

Aquatic exercise (such as water aerobics) and swimming are great for rehabilitation and can also help improve hip muscle strength in older adults, which can reduce their risk of falling. These activities can also improve grip strength in people with osteoarthritis. Low grip strength is a predictor of increased risk of functional limitations and reduced quality of life as we age. It is therefore important to gain or maintain strength and function now to minimize the impact later in life.

3. It has less impact on joints.

Swimming reduces weight-bearing stress compared to land-based activities (such as running or cycling). This means that the compression on the joints is less than when exercising on land. This makes swimming a great way to stay physically active for people who might otherwise find it difficult to exercise.

A group of elderly women do water aerobics in an indoor pool.
Swimming and other water-based exercises are great options for people who might otherwise find it difficult to exercise.
karelnoppe / shutterstock

For example, swimming can be great for people recovering from an injury or illness, with research showing that swimming was able to moderately reduce pain and improve physical function in adults who Suffered from musculoskeletal conditions (such as arthritis or joint problems). Swimming can also be beneficial for older adults, with one study showing that the physical benefits of swimming can reduce the risk of falls.

Swimming can also be great for women who are pregnant, especially those who suffer from pelvic pain. People who are overweight can also benefit from swimming. Not only is this form of exercise easy on the joints, but it can also be as good as walking to lose body fat.

4. It improves mental well-being.

There is strong evidence that being physically active in general can prevent symptoms of depression, and reduce the risk of low mood and anxiety. Exercise can also improve quality of life for people with depression.

Swimming itself is associated with a range of well-being benefits – including improved life satisfaction and feeling healthier. It can also reduce stress levels. These signs of positive well-being may in turn translate into fewer odds of poor mental health.

Outside the pool

If you’re already someone who swims regularly, you might be looking for ways to change up your routine a bit or try something new. Many people want to try outdoor swimming because of its reported health, mood and mental health benefits.

But outdoor swimming can come with many additional risks, so there are a few things you need to keep in mind if you’re planning to try it. These include being aware of your swimming location and the dangers associated with swimming in rivers, streams and oceans, as well as how cold water can affect your body.

It’s also a great time of year to try outdoor swimming. Even in early summer, when the weather is warm in the UK, the water temperature outside is still very cold. In fact, swimming fatalities are common in late spring and early summer as people head to the water to cool off. So if you want to try outdoor swimming, it’s best to wait from late July to early September when the water temperature is at its peak.

Read more: Cold water diving can be deadly – ​​here’s how to avoid it

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do yourself to reduce the risks of hypothermia – the body’s initial response to jumping into cold water – such as training the body ahead of time.

Along with its many physical and mental health benefits, swimming can also be a great way for people to socialize and get involved in their community. There are many ways to get started with swimming, so look for opportunities in your neighborhood.

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