Friday, August 16, 2013

Swimming Isn’t Just For the Fishes

In the movie Cocoon, several elderly adults discovered that a nearby swimming pool had the power to give them strength, improved well-being, a more youthful spirit and increased energy. While the cause of their exuberance and new lease on life was from an alien planet, it doesn’t take alien technology to reap the benefits from swimming.
For those that know me well, you probably think an article on the benefits of swimming would be the last column I would write, right up there with the wonders of yoga.  Being terrified of the water for the better part of 45 years, it has been only recently that I have conquered my fear of the water and have learned to not only love to swim, but love the health benefits a dip in the pool offers even more!
When looking to add some variety to your exercise program, consider these benefits to adopting a swimming routine.

Swimming is a great way to increase muscle strength and tone while helping build strong cardio base.  This is due in part to the resistance that water provides.  While runners have to deal with the air, swimmers gain the added benefit from propelling herself through the water.
Unlike machines in a gym that isolate one body part at a time, swimming puts the body through a broad range of motion that helps joints and ligaments stay loose and flexible.  Your arms, torso, hips and legs are all engaged and the reaching motion also provides a great stretch.
Much like running, cycling or aerobics based classes; swimming provides an excellent cardio workout and improves heart health. The better and stronger you become, the harder and faster you can swim which improves your cardio health.
For some time, people thought that because water is cooler than our body temperatures, it would be difficult to lose weight with a water workout or via swimming. Like many old ideas about exercise, this has since been revised: Swimming is now recognized as one of the biggest calorie burners around, and it's great for keeping weight under control.  Additionally its low impact and friendly on the joints and an excellent form of cardio work for those rehabbing from injuries.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, swimming is an excellent cross training workout for other cardio sports.  As a runner, I believe I became a much better runner as I became a better swimmer. First the rhythmic breathing patterns of swimming adapt nicely to those of other cardio sports. Second, swimming provides a nice physical and mental break from your normal routine.  Swimming can actually be a nice recovery workout that reenergizes and rejuvenates the mind and body.
The last and maybe most important benefit of swimming is literally lifesaving.  Water sports are becoming more popular and social in nature but can be dangerous if you fear the water and cannot swim. Learning to swim not only improves your mental and physical health; it may also save your life or the life of a loved one.