A couple years ago, I dreaded every minute in the pool. The whole environment felt like an alien world – being wet, having to work to keep myself afloat, and struggling with the fact that I couldn’t catch my breath in the water. I was determined to tackle a new sport, though, and the first step was jumping in.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m in the water every day swimming like a pro and enjoying every minute of it. I look forward going to the pool – I feel comfortable in the water, and it’s my chance to get in a good workout and focus on the water and nothing else. That feeling didn’t come on the first day, but taking up swimming was one of the best choices I have made and I’ve never looked back.
And while the pool is never empty, I’m always surprised at how many people are wary of giving swimming a try. In many cases, it’s simply because they don’t know about all the ways that swimming can make a positive difference in your lifestyle. In fact, one of the only downsides to swimming is that it can be too addictive!
So if you’re on the fence about getting in the pool, or looking to take up a new sport and thinking about swimming as an option, here are a couple ways that swimming can have a big impact on your life. I hope they motivate you to dive in!
Benefits of swimming
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- Losing weight – Swimming is one of the best ways to get in a good workout and feel the benefits throughout your body. Many people turn to exercise as a way to lose weight, and swimming is a great way to torch fat. In the water, if you’re not actively swimming, you’re sinking, and moving through water takes a lot more energy than moving through air. Because of this, swimming can burn up to 900 calories per hour, a much higher burn rate than running or cycling. Losing that weight can produce a number of health benefits of its own. Cutting calories can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes and can help to lower your blood pressure, all of which will help you live longer and more fully (think less time at the doctor’s office, for example). Of course, losing weight is also aesthetic – after a few months in the pool, you’ll likely have dropped a significant amount of weight and will be ready to rock your swimsuit at the beach!
- Building strength – In addition to cutting fat, swimming is a great way to build up your muscles. And not just in your arms – swimming works your torso and legs as well, making it a truly full-body workout. While your arms pull, your legs kick and your core tightens and rotates, targeting muscles that are difficult to get at with running. If you have any doubts about how well swimming works to improve your muscle tone, just take a look at Michael Phelps!
- Improving flexibility – Good swimming form requires you to reach forward with your whole body, pulling yourself through the water and flexing your ankles back with each kick. The result is that the act of swimming itself stretches your whole body, increasing your flexibility – which makes you less prone to injury in other sports and will make your body feel years younger.
- Low impact – One of my favorite things about swimming compared to other sports is that it’s extremely low impact – there’s no pounding your knees against the ground like in running. As a result, it’s possible to swim hard one day and easy the next without risking injury. The low-impact nature of swimming also makes it a ready substitute for other sports in case of injury, so that you can keep up fitness and speed up your recovery. Swimming is also a sport that you can practice for your whole life since it’s easy on your joints.
- Living longer – It’s a good thing that you can continue swimming deep into old age, because this sport will also keep you living longer! One study that looked at swimmers over several decades found that swimmers tended to have longer lifespans than people who ran or didn’t exercise at all.
- Lowering stress – You’ve probably heard of “runner’s high,” that feeling of running on air and finding your happy place can be triggered in the water as well. In addition to the benefits of releasing good endorphins, swimming forces you to focus on your breathing – using many of the same techniques that are intended to reduce anxiety outside of exercise. And while focusing on the thin black line at the bottom of the pool can seem boring from time to time, it’s also meditative. For long-time swimmers, simply seeing the line pass by as you float by effortlessly on the surface can be enough to ease any troubles that might be bothering you back on land.
- Cleaning skin – Jumping in the pool can be a daily cleansing for your skin, especially if you swim in a saltwater pool. Unlike a chlorine pool, saltwater will keep your skin feeling moist and supple. It also has the benefit of reducing the frequency and intensity of rashes, like eczema. And while chlorine pools can dry out your skin and hair, they too have some benefits – for acne sufferers, chlorine exposure during your daily swims can reduce outbreaks.
- Improving productivity – Swimming can actually make you better at work, which will make you happy and impress your boss. Improved blood flow throughout your body also reaches your brain, increasing your capacity for critical thinking and improving your productivity on difficult tasks. The same boost to your cardiovascular system can provide a bump to your overall energy – exercise can actually leave you less tired than you would otherwise be, helping you fight through the post-lunch lull.
What type of swimming is right for you?
Since I’m confident you’ll want to jump into the nearest pool now that you know how great swimming can be for your lifestyle, the next thing to find out is what type of swimming is right for you. There are a couple different strokes out there, each requiring a different level of skill, scooting you across the pool at different speeds, and sapping energy at different rates.
The most popular stroke by far, practiced by 82% of swimmers, is the backstroke. The backstroke won’t get you anywhere fast – it’s the slowest stroke among those most commonly practiced – but the benefit to this stoke is that it takes very little skill to get started with it and doesn’t require much energy. That means that you can swim backstroke for hours without getting tired, making it perfect when you just want to go for an easy swim.
The breaststroke is the next most popular stroke, and it provides a more balanced combination of speed, effort, and skill. The stroke is still easy to learn, and will get you across the pool at a moderate pace, but will also leave you tired much sooner than the backstroke.
Less than half of all swimmers practice the crawl, also known as freestyle, and even fewer the butterfly. These strokes are extremely fast, but also require much more skill than either the backstroke or breaststroke – particularly the butterfly. Both will also leave you tired quickly, so don’t expect to swim for hours with either of these strokes.
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While I didn’t originally get into swimming for all of the benefits it holds, I’ve certainly been enjoying them since I first jumped in the water. It’s hard to turn down an easy way to increase your health and fitness and become more productive, and you’ll wonder why you never took up the sport sooner once you’ve found a stroke that works for you. I hope to see you in the next lane over soon!