The Benefits of Swimming

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll learn the physical and mental benefits associated with water-based exercises. You'll come away with a strong sense of what's unique about swimming as a form of physical activity.

Swimming as Exercise

Rob loves to run. Unfortunately, Rob is receiving some bad news today. His doctor tells him he can no longer run due to some problems with his joints.

As you might imagine, Rob is devastated by the news. When his doctor suggests he take up swimming or another water-based exercise as an alternative, at first Rob shrugs off the idea. Running has been his main form of exercise for so long. He doesn't believe swimming could possibly compete.

This lesson focuses on how Rob comes to learn about the benefits of water-based exercise. By the end, we'll find out whether Rob is convinced to jump into a pool the next chance he gets.

Physical Benefits

First, Rob learns from his doctor that water-based exercise includes swimming, along with walking or running in the water, treading water, water aerobics, water yoga, and doing other exercises that use the resistance of the water.

Even the military uses resistance exercises in water due to their physical benefits.
Marines training in water

He asks his doctor to describe more about how these types of activities could benefit him physically.

His doctor absolutely loves this question. She says that research from the University of South Carolina has concluded that men's risk of dying is cut by about 50 percent for swimmers compared to runners, walkers, and sedentary individuals.

Rob's ears perk up in disbelief. How can this be? ''You need to tell me more about this…'' he says.

His doctor explains that swimming has many benefits for our physical well-being. For example, like running, it is an aerobic exercise that works the muscles. However, it can be even more beneficial than running in some very important respects. For instance, swimming puts less stress on the body's joints and skeletal system and so can be done for longer periods of time without as much risk for injury or pain.

Like other forms of physical exercise, swimming can help to maintain a healthier body weight due to the amount of calories burned through the activity. People suffering from a variety of ongoing, chronic conditions may also see benefits. Some studies reveal that those with asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis can see improvement in their conditions when they incorporate water-based activities. It may also help raise ''good'' (HDL) cholesterol levels.

This is great news to Rob who has diabetes and high cholesterol. Additionally, he has also been looking for a way to increase his flexibility. His doctor tells him this is another positive reason to try swimming more frequently. As he moves through the water, he will not only increase his strength, but he will also stretch his body, likely improving his flexibility over time.

Psychological Benefits

Later that same week, Rob chats with a therapist about his ongoing challenges with anxiety and mentions that he's planning to take up swimming as a form of exercise in place of running.

The therapist is excited for him. Some experts have shown a correlation with swimming and a decrease in anxiety and depression along with improvement in mood.

Rob knows that running has been very beneficial for his mental well-being and wonders what is similar and different about water-based activities.

The therapist describes how both running and swimming can lead to the increased release of endorphins, which can feel quite good to us. Both have a rhythmic quality in which your body is moving consistently. They can both be described as meditative in their own ways.

Swimming can be meditative due to the pattern of breathing and rhythmic nature of the strokes.
A swimmer taking a breath

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