Prior to summer 2021, when someone asked me if I wanted to go swimming, I assumed they meant: let’s go to the beach, lie in the sand, and ever so briefly put our toes in the water.
I was pretty happy with that version of swimming, but as an endurance sport enthusiast who’s engaged to an Ironman athlete, I began to feel the itch to complete a triathlon. The swim section of a triathlon involves a little more than a dip in the water, so I found myself learning a new skill.
If you’re like me, you feel a bit more confident when approaching a goal by diving deep and learning everything there is to know. I found myself researching the best swimming gear, watching YouTube videos of different swimming drills, and signing up for a SwimOutlet membership (which I recommend because it’s a money saver!).
While I was doing my research, I learned quite a bit about the many health benefits of swimming. Now, even when not training for triathlons, I try to keep swimming as a part of my routine because I know it’s hugely beneficial.
Below, I go into detail about the various health benefits of swimming.
The top health benefits of swimming
1. Increases cardiovascular fitness
Swimming is an endurance activity, meaning the benefits are primarily influencing the aerobic system. This benefit leads the heart muscle to become larger and pump blood more efficiently.
According to the Swim Strong Foundation, swimming for 30 minutes per day can decrease the presence of coronary heart disease in women by 30%-40%.
2. Improves muscular strength and flexibility
Swimmers utilize their whole bodies throughout the workout (unless they’re intentionally isolating a muscle for a workout). Resistance from the water allows swimmers to build muscle in their arms, back, and legs while also increasing muscular flexibility.
3. Lower blood pressure and blood sugar
As swimming is an aerobic exercise, consistent moderate swimming will support athletes in maintaining appropriate blood sugar and blood pressure levels. This is due to improvement in heart and lung function.
If you have health needs related to your blood pressure and/or blood sugar, consider asking your provider if a swim program is an appropriate option for you.
4. Low impact on muscles and joints
I’m primarily a runner, meaning I’m familiar with the negative effects of the constant pounding of high-impact sports. Currently, I’m not able to run due to an impact related injury, which means I’ve turned my movement to low-impact options like swimming.
Because swimming is low impact, it’s an excellent movement option for people who can’t safely engage in a higher impact sport. Some people that may benefit from the low impact of swimming include: people who are injured, pregnant people, people with arthritis, and people with disabilities.
If you’re injured or have a health condition, I recommend speaking with a provider before beginning swimming to ensure it doesn’t pose other risks to you.
5. Quickens recovery
Even if you’re able to engage in high-impact exercise, swimming may be a valuable addition to your routine as it may speed up your recovery. One spring while training for a marathon, in my over-committing fashion, I also signed up for a swimming program through ASweatLife.
While I was concerned adding swimming to my long run day would negatively impact my recovery, I actually experienced the opposite effect. On days I swam, my muscles felt more rested and looser which prepared me for harder running workouts over the rest of the week.
6. Beneficial for those with asthma and multiple sclerosis (MS)
It’s important for people who have asthma to improve their lung capacity to better control their breathing. As swimming is a sport that requires controlled breathing patterns, improved lung capacity is one of the main benefits of the sport.
Additionally, the humid environments of pools have been shown to be useful for those with asthma. Plus, the buoyancy of pools allows those with MS to engage in exercise that decreases joint pain.
7. Better sleep
In general, aerobic exercise is shown to improve sleep for those with insomnia. Insomnia is prevalent in those who are experiencing pain and older adults.
Both of these groups of people may not be able to engage in higher impact sports, so swimming may be the best option for them.
8. Improved mental health
Last, but not least, aerobic exercise is linked to improved mental health. Part of this improvement is due to managing breathing in a controlled and meditative way. This controlled breathing can regulate your stress response system which impacts your mental health.
The bottom line: Swimming is a deeply beneficial movement activity. It can improve your health in a variety of ways, whether you’re injured or need lower impact exercise. If you’re curious about swimming or are new to the sport, check out my guide to swimming for beginners.
You’ll be swimming in no time!