Swimming has been called the perfect exercise. After all, you can get all of the benefits of an aerobic workout without any damaging impact on joints, and it can be done by almost everyone.
It is utilized by athletes to stay strong and keep fit when recovering from injury, and there is no fancy equipment needed—just you and the deep blue.
Swimming has many more benefits than those obvious advantages seen on the surface; its improvements to overall health go much deeper. So, let’s take a big breath and dive into what are the benefits of swimming for your mind and body.
10 Benefits of Swimming For Your Mind and Body
1. Swimming Improves Endurance and Strength
Swimming is a form of low-impact exercise that helps to build cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. Swimming requires a high level of endurance as the entire body needs to move through the water—while the legs kick, the arms pull. As the back reaches and rotates, the stomach tightens to power the legs and stabilize the core, making swimming one of the best aerobic exercises to give you a total body workout.
2. Swimming Builds up Bone Mass
For years, researchers scoffed at the idea that swimming affected bone mass. After all, only weight-bearing exercises could achieve this benefit, right? Not according to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Because there are ethical reasons to avoid in-depth bone examination on humans, the study put rats into three groups: running, swimming, and a control group with no exercise stimulation.
While running still showed the highest increase in BMD (Bone Mineral Density), the swimming group also showed benefits over the control group in both BMD and femoral bone weight. While more studies are needed, these new findings show that previous research dismissing swimming’s bone benefits may need to be revisited.
3. Swimming Helps You Stay Flexible
Swimming requires you to reach, stretch, twist, and pull your way through the water. Your ankles become fins stretched with each kick as you push off against the liquid pressure. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still stretch on your own, but repetitive stretching found in your various strokes also helps with flexibility.
4. Swimming Reduces Inflammation
While swimming’s cardiovascular benefits of strengthening the heart muscle are common knowledge, research also indicates aerobic activities such as swimming reduce inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis build-up in the heart.
Reducing system-wide inflammation leads to lessened disease progression in many other areas.
5. Swimming Holds Its Own for Calories Burned
Everyone knows swimming is a great way to burn calories, but most don’t realize that it can be just as efficient as jumping on the treadmill. Swimming can burn equal or greater calories than running, depending on the stroke you choose and your intensity. Additionally, you don’t have to worry about sweat in your eyes.
For example: for 10 minutes of swimming, you burn 60 calories with the breaststroke, 80 calories with the backstroke, 100 calories with freestyle, and an impressive 150 calories with the butterfly stroke.
For perspective, running a 10-minute mile burns around 100 calories. Therefore, a solid 30-minute butterfly speed session can burn 150 more calories than running a 5K in the same time frame.
6. Swimming Can Improve Exercise-Induced Asthma
Nothing is as frustrating as trying to exercise and being unable to get your breath. Unlike working out in dry gym air or braving seasonal pollen counts, swimming allows you to breathe moist air while you train. Not only does swimming help alleviate asthma symptoms, but studies have also shown that it can improve the overall condition of the lungs.
In a recent study, a group of children that completed a six-week swimming program saw improvements in symptom severity, snoring, mouth-breathing, and hospitalization and ER visits. These benefits were still noted a year after the swimming program ended. People who don’t have asthma can also benefit from swimming, like increasing overall lung volume and learning good breathing techniques.
7. Swimming Can Boost Your Mental Health and Lower Stress
Love that natural endorphin kick? While many talk about a runner’s high, swimming can bring about all those feel-good emotions too. It’s no secret that aerobic exercise is good for your mental health. Swimming, however, seems to be one of the most beneficial options.
Not only does swimming release endorphins, but it also encourages hippocampal neurogenesis. That’s a fancy term for “the growth of new brain cells in a part of the brain that atrophies under chronic stress.”
In addition to the happy hormones, you can feel a relaxation response similar to yoga through swimming. As I mentioned previously, swimming stretches your body constantly. Combine this with deep rhythmic breathing, and you can experience a relaxation rush unique to the sport.
Swimming is also calming and meditative, as the sound of your breathing and the water rushing by helps you focus inward and drown out all other distractions. This lowers stress and depression naturally.
Research also shows that swimming can reverse damage to the brain from stress through a process called hippocampal neurogenesis.
So, if you feel like you’re drowning emotionally, jumping in an actual body of water may be what you need to find your feel-good feet again.
8. Salt-Water Swimming Can Be a Beauty Treatment for the Skin
Swimming regularly in salt water helps the skin retain moisture and detoxifies to promote new cell growth. You will be surprised how smooth and healthy your skin feels after an invigorating ocean swim.
9. Swimming Can Make You Smarter
Of course, all exercise is great for the mind, but can swimming make you smarter?
Research from Australia focused on kids who took swimming lessons compared to a control group of non-swimmers. The results showed that kids who regularly participated in swimming could master language development, fine motor skills, confidence, and physical development sooner than the control group.
Swimming may also help with math skills, as swimmers regularly calculate the meters swum in sets or interval drills. This improves their adding and subtraction skills.
10. Swimming May Just Lengthen Your Life
While all exercise can produce more significant health benefits and longevity, studies point to swimming as one of the best choices for doing so. Researchers at the University of South Carolina looked at 40,547 men, aged 20 to 90, for over 32 years. The results showed that those who swam had a 50 percent lower death rate than runners, walkers, or men who didn’t exercise.
Benefits of Swimming in Cold Water
Cold water swimming is the act of swimming in a pool, lake, or pond when it’s at its coldest. According to various researchers and scientists, swimming in cold water has a lot of benefits. The cold water helps to boost the white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to changing conditions.
Cold water swimming also flushes your veins, arteries, and capillaries. It forces blood to the surface and pushes the cold downwards. In other words, it helps to warm our extremities. Repeated exposure adapts us to the cold. Many studies have shown us the link between cold water and stress reduction. Whatever you’re dealing with—stress, anxiety, uncertainty—can be washed away by the calm tiredness of a good set of laps in cold water.
How Does the Brain React While Swimming?
Swimming and brain health go hand in hand, as it is a meditative exercise. Your brain function improves via a process known as hippocampal neurogenesis, where your brain replaces cells lost due to stress. When you hit the water, your mood is lifted immediately from the coolness of the water, leaving you free from tiredness and depression.
A recent study by Dr. Howard Carter of the University of Western Australia, School of Sport Science shows how the brain reacts during swimming. The team of scientists, led by Carter, hypothesized that water immersion to the level of the right atrium in the heart would increase the delivery of blood within the brain. The right atrium is located on the upper right-hand side of the heart and is one of four hollow chambers of the heart. The right atrium receives blood from two large veins: the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava.
The job of both of these veins is to return blood that has provided oxygen to various sites in the body; the returning blood, then, is low in oxygen. The coronary sinus, which is a smaller vein in the wall of the heart, also drains blood into the right atrium.
“We found that brain blood flow is higher when subjects were immersed in water up to the level of the heart compared to on land — laying the ground work for further investigation of its effects on cerebrovascular health,” said Dr. Howard Carter in The American Journal of Physiology.
While the participants were immersed in water, blood flow to their middle cerebral arteries increased by 14 percent, while blood flow to their posterior cerebral arteries increased by nine percent.
“As with land-based exercise, different types of water-based activities, such as water aerobics and swimming, have slightly different effects on heart function and cerebral blood flow,” says Carter
The act of swimming requires the use of practically all of our senses, including sight, sound, touch, and smell. This is a rare opportunity to take a break from your electronic devices. Having water flow over us is quite relaxing, almost like getting a massage. Swimming, in a nutshell, is a great way to relieve stress and to become more present at the moment.
Jump in the pool if you are just beginning a fitness routine or are seeking to switch things up. Numerous physical, mental, and emotional advantages come from swimming regularly. Feeling motivated to grab those goggles now? The water’s great!
Don't have time for the full article? Read this.
– Health benefits of swimming: builds bone mass, helps maintain flexibility, increases the definition of muscles, and builds strength.
Research also shows aerobic activities like swimming reduces inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis build-up in the heart.
Not only does swimming release endorphins, but it also helps the growth of new brain cells in a part of the brain that atrophies under chronic stress.
Swimming improves symptoms like snoring and promotes good breathing techniques and lung volume.
Different types of water-based activities such as water aerobics and swimming have slightly different effects on heart function and cerebral blood flow.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
|J Exerc Rehabil: Effect of regular swimming exercise on the physical composition, strength, and blood lipid of middle-aged women
|Research Gate: The osteogenic effects of swimming on bone mass, strength, and microarchitecture in rats with unloading‐induced bone loss
|Science Daily: Why Aerobic Exercise Is Good For The Heart
|Science Daily: Swimming Aids Asthma Symptoms In Children, Study Finds
|HuffPost: Just Keep Swimming: What Swimming Does for Your Brain
|PsychCentral: How Swimming Reduces Depression
|Healthline: Can Washing Your Face with Salt Water Really Give You Beach-Fresh Skin?
|ScienceDaily: Children who swim start smarter, study suggests
|Prevention: Dive into Longevity
|Harvard Health Publishing: How to boost your immune system
|Nourish: Water and Stress Reduction: Sipping Stress Away
|NCBI: Cardiovascular responses to water immersion in humans: impact on cerebral perfusion