Ready to switch up your cardio routine? Swimming could be just the solution. Not only is it one of the most effective aerobic exercises, but swimming also causes less stress on the body than some other strenuous cardio workouts can.
According to research from Frontiers in Physiology, endurance swimmers maintain strong, consistent heart and respiratory function even after prolonged intense, repetitive exertion. But you don’t have to compete in an endurance race to reap those same benefits. Swimming is ideal for all levels of fitness, experience and mobility.
A half-hour of laps in the local community pool a few times each week can do wonders for both physical and mental health. Here are five reasons to make swimming part of your exercise routine—plus, how to augment your workouts for optimal results.
1. Swimming provides a full-body workout
Because swimming activates both the upper and lower body, it’s an efficient workout for all your muscle groups. This includes everything from the shoulders, pectorals, and arms, to the back, core and glutes, to the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
Thanks to the full-body nature of this sport, cardiovascular strength is just one of the many fitness results you’ll achieve. Swimming also builds muscle tone, boosts metabolic function, improves circulation and respiration, increases stamina, and regulates blood pressure and cholesterol, the BMC Journal of Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation explains.
2. Swimming is accessible and low-impact
Some cardio activities, such as running or road cycling, can be painful for the joints, increasing the risk of injury over time. Not to mention, frequent overtraining can contribute to heart arrhythmia or even cardiac arrest, reports Frontiers in Physiology. Swimming has a much lower impact on the body, which makes it safe and accessible for long-term fitness.
Since swimming is done in the water, it creates buoyancy which exerts gentle resistance on the muscles, while reducing overall joint pressure, according to the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. Because this improves range of motion and flexibility, swimming is ideal for those with physical limitations. As the Medicine Journal reports, swimming can even relieve stiffness from osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and Parkinson’s disease.
3. Swimming burns calories at a high rate
Swimming is one of the most efficient low-impact calorie burners. According to Harvard Health, someone who weighs 155 pounds will torch 216 calories in 30 minutes of swimming at a moderate pace or 360 calories at a vigorous pace. That’s the same amount burned from running a 10-minute mile.
Compared with other low-impact exercises, you can see how swimming is high on the list of calorie-burning activities. As reported by Harvard Health, on average, in 30 minutes, a 155-pound person will burn:
If you work up to a vigorous pace, you’ll burn more calories swimming than you would from most other activities.
4. Swimming is an effective stress reliever
Swimming can have a positive effect on mental wellness too. A study in the British Medical Journal Case Reports found swimming—especially in open water—to be a successful therapeutic intervention for chronic stress, anxiety, depression, or other forms of psychological distress.
There are two reasons for this, the journal suggests. First, the immersive exposure to blue surroundings will naturally calm and uplift your mood state. Second, the achievement of being able to maintain a consistent swimming stride in open water will boost self-efficacy.
If you’re under stress, swimming is a healthy way to work through it
5. Swimming can help boost sleep quality
If you experience insomnia or frequent sleep disturbances, swimming could be the answer to enhancing sleep outcomes as well. Just 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking, swimming, or bicycling) per week can improve both duration and quality of sleep, the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reports.
Morning swim sessions in particular boost sleep quality because starting the day with aerobic exercise resets the body’s natural circadian rhythms, the research continues. This helps you feel alert and well-rested over the course of normal waking hours and lowers the prevalence of daytime fatigue, which makes it easier to fall asleep at night.
How to optimize results from swimming
Of course, these health benefits are appealing, but it takes effort to achieve them. Here are a few tips to maximize the results of your swimming workout:
- Swim at least 2.5 hours a week. The S. Department of Health and Human Services advises a minimum of two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity per week. You can space that out in whichever your schedule permits, but aim for at least this much cardio, like swimming, in addition to another two days of strength conditioning.
- Vary the swimming strokes. If most exercise seems boring or repetitive to you, then swimming is the perfect choice for its built-in versatility. Alternate between all four of the different competitive strokes—high-speed butterfly, methodical breaststroke, endurance freestyle, and technical backstroke. The result is a fun, dynamic routine that works the entire body without feeling monotonous.
- Focus on form and technique. Swimming requires precision. In order to exert your muscles to their peak performance, learn how to do each stroke correctly in the pool. Once you master the right form and technique, you can experiment with other ways to build more intensity and challenge into the workouts, like adding speed intervals or wearing ankle weights to increase resistance. But start with the basics—form will set the tone for your whole swim session.
Make swimming part of your cardio fitness regimen
If you’re looking for a cardio workout that’s both enjoyable and effective, swimming is worth a try. The many health benefits and full-body workout of this sport make it worthy of a place in your current fitness routine. If you have access to a pool, work swimming in and get ready to reap some brag-worthy benefits!