Swimming is great exercise. You don’t have to swim lap after lap, either — even just playing in a pool is a wonderful way to stay cool and get a little activity. It also has numerous physical and mental health benefits beyond what you might assume at first glance:
It boosts weight loss
Swimming burns roughly 425-550 calories per hour for the average person. If you’re trying to lose weight, this means that swimming is a great way to create or increase a calorie deficit. Since swimming helps build lean muscle mass, it can also boost your metabolism over the long run. If you’re older or have joint injuries or health conditions that make intense exercise difficult, swimming can be a great way to work out in a way that’s gentler on your joints.
It can improve heart health
Swimming is a combination of cardio and muscle building exercise. It’s aerobic, so it helps your heart become stronger and pump more efficiently. Exercise in general is good for your circulation, since it encourages blood flow to the muscles that you’re working. If you’re able to swim in a warm pool, the heat also helps expand blood vessels and boost circulation even more.
It relieves arthritis pain
One way to help preserve joint health and improve arthritis symptoms is exercise. Unfortunately, a lot of land-based exercises can also end up making things worse. Exercising in water, including swimming, can help relieve pain and swelling in both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. For some sufferers, swimming and water exercises may be the best activity for improving joint health and reducing symptoms.
It improves mental health
Swimming is a relaxing activity and may help reduce the symptoms of anxiety in some sufferers. It’s found to improve mood and exercising in warm water may even help reduce some symptoms of depression. For the parents of children with special needs, swimming can help with family bonding, improve children’s mood, and relieve pain.
It may be safer for asthma
People with asthma can face challenges when it comes to exercising safely. Pools provide a humid environment that can make it easier to breathe and having to hold your breath and expand your lungs can help strengthen the muscles associated with breathing. Note that this is only true for natural bodies of water or pools that use few chemicals — in some cases, the heavy-duty water treatment used in some pools can make asthma symptoms worse.
It can improve sleep
It’s hard to overstate the importance of high-quality sleep. Research on adults with insomnia found that regular aerobic exercise helped improve their sleep. While this isn’t exclusive to swimming, swimming is an aerobic exercise that is easier for people with a wide array of health conditions that can make other exercises too difficult to do regularly.
It increases strength
Moving through water is more difficult than moving through air, because water creates resistance. This is how swimming can help make you stronger — every time you take a step, move your arms, or swim a lap, you’re forced to push against the weight of the water. Your muscles work harder, so you become stronger with time.
It can help people with neurological disorders
People with some neurological disorders, like multiple sclerosis can suffer from pain, weakness, and trouble balancing. Water provides support, so sufferers can have an easier time balancing themselves and holding up their limbs. The resistance provided by water also helps improve strength. Research on MS sufferers found that swimming helped reduce pain, depression, and fatigue.
It’s safe for almost everyone
Swimming and water exercise is generally done in water that’s only waist to chest deep, so there’s no danger that you’ll end up in water over your head. It’s also generally safe for people who are elderly, pregnant, or suffering from health conditions that make other types of exercise difficult, painful, or unsafe. Even if you can’t run or lift weights, you can probably swim. People who are severely disabled can benefit from water exercise in a physical therapy environment.
Even if you don’t have your own pool, swimming may be a good option for you. Public pools often have reasonable rates, and many even offer water aerobics or swimming classes for adults. If you aren’t sure if swimming will be safe or effective for you, talk to your doctor. They may have specific exercises or modifications that will benefit your condition.