No exercise or activity offers a total-body workout, is easier on the joints, increases flexibility, and can be enjoyed at any age—from toddlers to seniors—than swimming. While it's most often associated with summer, swimming is actually a physical activity in which you can participate any time of the year if an indoor pool is available or temperatures are mild. Of course, when temperatures rise, everyone looks around for the friend with the pool. The next best bet: a local club or community pool; the cleaner and less crowded the better.
Swimming isn't just a fun way to cool off during the summer. It's one of the few sports or activities that doesn't cost lots of money or require special gear or equipment. It also holds no age or ability barrier.
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Not that we recommend you do it because everyone else does it—if the popular kids were all jumping off a bridge, does that make it OK? Swimming is popular for a good reason, or actually many good reasons, as you will find out as you continue to read. According to the latest U.S. Census report:
- Swimming ranks No. 3 in popularity of sports activities
- Swimming ranks 4th most-popular sport in U.S.
- Swimming for fitness ranked No. 2 in the growth of top activities in the United States in 2013 with 3.1 million new participants, according to PHIT America.
- Swimming for fitness averages No. 2 in “aspirational” sports participation on non-participants by age (6 to 65+) for the 2016 Physical Activity Council Report.
- According to the Fitbit Activity Index, swimming is the No. 3 fitness activity for all ages in Great Britain, No. 4 in Australia, and No. 7 in the United States.
So, how do you like it now?
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Water's buoyancy reduces a person's “weight” by about 90 percent, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Pool water's buoyancy counteracts the force of gravity, making swimming an ideal low-impact form of exercise that puts very little stress on those bones and joints. If it's a heated pool (even better!), muscles will become relaxed, which increases flexibility and enables you to engage in important stretching exercises. If you're one of those fitness buffs who engage in intense lactic-acid-building endurance workouts—like running, cycling or weights—swimming helps flush out toxins and impurities, preventing muscle tightness and soreness the next day.
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Swimming is one of the easiest and best ways to burn unwanted calories: an hour of swimming burns about 500 calories. Apparently, those myths about swimmers and calorie intake are true. Just look at Michael Phelps. Swimming increases your metabolism, continuing the "burn" for a while even when you've exited the pool.
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Helps You Quit Smoking
Yeah, right. The water puts out the smoke. If that doesn't do it, the 'No Smoking' sign will. If you've ever tried to quit smoking or know someone in the process, they can be pretty irritable. Jump in a pool and swim—it works.Continue to 5 of 25 below.
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You hear about certain forms of exercise being a "total-body workout." Maybe—but swimming is the original total-body workout: it targets everything from sculpting your back to toning your arms. No heavy equipment or weights are necessary. Instead of buying lots of different pieces of exercise equipment to work specific muscles, jump in the pool, and tone your whole body in a few laps.Continue to 9 of 25 below.
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Come As You Are
This doesn't mean swim naked, although, if you want to go skinny dipping in your own private pool, that's up to you. For the average person, swimming does not require lots of special equipment and gear. All you really need is a swimsuit. The other extras, like a towel, swim cap, goggles, swimmers earplugs, kickboard, pool float (for relaxing), noodle, and all of that extra stuff is up to you and your budget.
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Swimming is considered to be the ultimate aerobic activity. That's right—you no longer have to get into your Jane Fonda unitard, matching leg warmers, sweat band and white sneakers while flexing to Rick Astley. Oh, wait—it isn't the 1980s.
Compared to running, there is more breath control with swimming, which creates an increased demand for oxygen, making those muscles work harder without knowing it. Swimming also strengthens the heart, making it become larger. The heart's pumping action also becomes more refined, which leads to better blood circulation.
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Beats the Heat
It's no great revelation that swimming is refreshing: when temperatures climb sometimes the only relief can be found in that big body of water. Too bad there are so many other bodies sharing that space! Some people enjoy swimming at night under the stars. The crowds have cleared, there's no need to use UV sunblock, and it's sometimes just you, whoever you're with, the night sky, and the pool. Magical!
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It's true with any exercise or sport—they build confidence and raise self-esteem. OK—so you may not get a team t-shirt or a trophy, but regular swimming also does these things, while boosting your self-reliance. You feel more powerful—ready to face the world.Continue to 13 of 25 below.
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Taller, Longer, Leaner
Does swimming make you taller? Just look at Michael Phelps. While it isn't going to add height where the genetics and potential aren't there, swimming has the ability to build longer, leaner muscles. It's those "swimmer's muscles" combined with resistance training and cardio that help boost your metabolism to keep those calories burning longer. Swimming can also put your body through a range of movements, helping your muscles stay nice and long and flexible.
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Let's say you're recovering from an injury and are hoping to rebuild strength. Swimming will fulfill that need and desire. It's easy on the joints and gives sore knees a rest from constant pounding on the pavement—something you may not be able to do for a while.
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For some, just the idea or act of wearing a swimsuit in public (even in a backyard pool) can be the motivating force to shed a few pounds. People who consistently swim strenuously enough to be out of breath when they finish and elevate their heart rate do burn calories and lose weight," says Jane Moore, M.D., a physician and active swimmer from Tacoma, Washington. "The key is to push yourself a bit."
"Putting on a swimsuit and appearing in public should also motivate one to shed a few pounds," says Kris Houchens, head coach of the YMCA Indianapolis SwimFit Masters. Whatever your reason for not incorporating swimming into your life, this list above should illuminate the ways in which the sport can add to your quality of life.Continue to 17 of 25 below.
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If you own a pool, then you know what a magnet it can be in the summer time. Everyone wants to hang out at the kid-with-the-pool's house. While it may mean extra water-watching time for Mom or Dad, there's no denying that it brings children and adults together. Pools are all about socialization—they are a culture unto themselves.
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Team and Individual Sport
If you have that competitive spirit and are—or strive to be—athletic, then swimming is definitely an exhilarating individual and team sport. Just think about the Olympics, and what you or most people enjoy watching the most. For many, it's the swimming competitions, especially with those inside-the-pool cameras, catching every breathtaking part of the competition.
Starting from childhood, participating on a swim team can build up strength, confidence, and the ability to get along with others—which will help later in life.
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Simply put, knowing how to swim means a person is less likely to drown. Start swim lessons at a young age and continue until the child is proficient in swimming. And no diving in smaller residential pools
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Improves Mental Health
It's a proven fact that physical activity improves mood in children and adults. For people with conditions like fibromyalgia, swimming can help decrease stress and anxiety, while relaxing, strengthening and toning muscles. Water-based exercise improves mental health. Swimming can improve mood in both men and women.
For people with fibromyalgia, it can decrease anxiety and exercise therapy in warm water can decrease depression and improve mood. Water-based exercise can improve the health of mothers and their unborn children and has a positive effect on the mothers’ mental health.Continue to 21 of 25 below.
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Helps With Chronic Diseases, Post-Op, and as Physical Therapy
Water-based exercise can help people with chronic diseases. For those afflicted with arthritis, it improves the use of affected joints without worsening symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis patients notice an improvement in health after participating in hydrotherapy than with other activities. Swimming and water-based exercise also helps affected joints and decreases pain from osteoarthritis.
Post-Hip and Knee Replacement
If you've had a hip or knee replacement, the doctor may have recommended hydrotherapy. That means swimming. You can get in the pool right after sutures have been removed and the wound is healed, usually 6 to 8 weeks after surgery.
For Asthma Patients
Swimming has proven to be beneficial for asthma sufferers. Think about it—certain strokes will encourage lung function and breathing control. If you suffer from exercise-induced asthma, jumping in the pool may relieve symptoms, because it allows asthmatics to work out in moist air, reducing symptoms. Because swimming requires breath control, it also improves overall lung and breathing capacity.
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Ever had an urge to get in your car and just drive away from it all, whatever "it all" is? Everyone needs a little rest and relaxation—that's usually what weekends are supposed to be about. Stress from work, school, family, and job hunting all begins to build up. While it may sound simple, being able to just jump in a pool and swim can provide an enormous relief of pressure.
The aerobic benefits of swimming help your circulatory system function better, leading to better blood circulation to your brain. If your brain gets enough blood and oxygen (through aerobic exercise), it starts a process called hippocampal neurogenesis, in which cells from the hippocampus that have been lost due to stress are replaced with new cells.
Aerobic exercises like swimming can trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, which are chemicals that bring about feelings of contentment and euphoria.
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Boosts the Immune System
Did you know that swimming can boost your immune system? When cells in the body regularly get blood and oxygen, they function better and do a more effective job or removing toxins like carbon dioxide. This helps your body's overall well being. Swimming also has a positive effect on the lymphatic system. When the lymph system is in order, white blood cells are regularly distributed, resulting in increased immunity against diseases and infections.
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Where there's a pool, the family congregates, for swimming, entertaining, and a barbecue. It creates a reason to get together—kind of a focal point, or something around which to build activities. Parents of children with developmental disabilities have found that outdoor activities in a casual setting, like swimming, help improve family bonds. It kind of takes the focus off the child, and gives everyone something fun to do; sort of a win/win situation.Continue to 25 of 25 below.
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While rules used to advise us to "swim with a friend" for safety's sake, that doesn't mean you have to arrange a date every time you want to go swimming. Keeping safety in mind at home, your child can swim solo at home provided you or a designated water watcher is stationed at the pool. The same would be true for a senior adult who goes swimming in his or her backyard pool—it's best to have someone around to keep an eye on you during your workout.
Otherwise, if you are going to the local pool, go alone, take a friend— the choice is yours. Enjoy!