MountainView Hospital - June 03, 2024
by Emily Paulsen

Is swimming cardio? Why it's the ultimate, low-impact workout.

Is swimming cardio? The answer is a resounding yes! And it does a lot more than get your heart rate up. Swimming may be the ultimate workout for athletes and those of us just trying to stay active and feel better.

Swimming is the fourth most popular sports activity in the U.S. and is great for heart health and building strength and endurance. Children, older adults, people with joint pain and people with disabilities can all enjoy the benefits of swimming if they take proper precautions.

5 health benefits of swimming

Swimming has long been associated with certain physical and mental health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, strength, endurance and stress relief. Let's look closely at some common health benefits regular swimmers enjoy.

1. Gets your heart rate up

Swimming is a whole-body exercise that requires the heart to pump more blood to the muscles working to move your arms and legs. The heart does this by beating more rapidly.

A recent study showed that swimming two to three times a week reduces the risk of heart disease in older adults. In addition to raising your heart rate, swimming regularly can help reduce body fat, build physical strength and help improve or maintain bone health in post-menopausal women.

2. Improves lung function

Cardio-building exercises like swimming can also increase lung capacity. Swimmers tend to have bigger, more efficient lungs, compared to people who don't exercise. This is because swimming requires you to control your breathing — timing your breaths to different stroke patterns. Over time, this improves endurance and boosts lung capacity.

Swimming is often a recommended exercise for people with asthma because the warm, humid air of indoor pools can help soothe and open airways. Conversely, swimming in cold water, dry air or outdoor pools can trigger an asthma attack in some people.

3. Burns calories

Water creates natural resistance, meaning you must work harder to move through it. Because you're using your arms and legs to propel yourself through the water, you're activating the entire body — from your toes to your fingertips.

Depending on how much you weigh, how fast you swim and what stroke you use, you can burn between 225 calories (treading water) and nearly 900 calories an hour (butterfly stroke). Use this calculator to estimate your calorie burn.

4. Increases flexibility and is easy on your joints

Swimming is a low-impact exercise, meaning it puts less stress on the joints, especially the hips, knees, and spine. Moving your joints regularly helps keep them lubricated, reduces stiffness and can alleviate pain from arthritis. Swimming regularly can increase your strength and flexibility, which may reduce your risk of falling, especially as you age.

5. Boosts mood

For men and women of all ages, swimming can help improve mood. For people with fibromyalgia, swimming can decrease anxiety, while exercising in warm water (hydrotherapy) can decrease depression and improve mood. Swimming can also help improve health and mood during pregnancy.

Swimming helps you release tension and can be a welcome break from technology and screens. If you enjoy being in water, a regular swimming routine is a great way to reduce stress and boost overall well-being.

Common water safety practices

There are many health and wellness reasons to take the plunge and start swimming. But you should always keep your safety top of mind when doing any physical activity. Whether you're a seasoned swimmer or trying it out for the first time, review these important safety precautions before jumping into the water:

  • Choose a pool or swim area with a lifeguard.
  • Pay close attention to children near and in the water and if swimming in a group, designate a water watcher.
  • People who do not know how to swim should wear life jackets.
  • Take swimming lessons. Many cities offer these for free or at a low cost throughout the year.
  • If you have a home pool or are visiting one, make sure children cannot access it without adult supervision.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Learn the basics of lifesaving and CPR so you can respond quickly and appropriately in an emergency.

The American Red Cross offers a free online water safety class for parents, caregivers and anyone interested in increasing their water safety awareness.

Make swimming part of your exercise routine

When done safely, swimming provides great exercise, health benefits, stress relief — and a lot of fun too. With summer here, it's a great way to get moving and stay cool at the same time. While people of all ages can experience wellness benefits from swimming as exercise, it can be an especially useful physical activity for older adults. Consider taking up swimming as you age to stay active, reduce pain and boost cardiovascular health.

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