photo: wikimedia commons
This guest post by Becky Flanigan comes at a perfect time. I've been doing more swimming than I'm accustomed to, and I'm pretty crappy at it, and am thus accumulating a rather long list of swimming-related grievances. (Which you will probably be hearing about soon). So it's great to discover that the research on health benefits of swimming is way more inspiring than I realized! As you may recall, Becky also taught us some useful stuff about getting started with aqua-aerobics earlier. Thanks Becky!--Crabby
We know that hearts can’t actually talk, but they can sing, and nothing makes a heart sing louder or more heartily than being strong and in good health. If you are looking for a heart-strengthening, low-impact, yet effective alternative to the usual suspects like running or aerobics, it may be time to think about swimming your way to heart health. According to current research, swimming is one of the best things you can do to keep your heart strong.
Heart Benefits of SwimmingIn a recent study conducted by the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, and published in the Harvard Medical School’s Family Health Guide, results showed that cardiovascular health indicators including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and maximum energy output all improved from swimming. Those indicators, measured across nearly 46,000 male and female walkers, runners, swimmers, and couch potatoes, showed that swimmers and runners had the best numbers, followed by walkers. Covering an average of 13 years of follow-up, a second study looked at deaths among 40,547 men ages 20 to 90 and showed that just 2% of the swimmers had died, compared with 8% of runners, 9% of walkers, and 11% of non-exercisers.
The evidence supporting the benefits of swimming for your heart’s health doesn’t end there. A recent study by the State University of New York cited ample data showing that compared to non-swimmers, those who swim are more likely to have lower resting heart rates, better blood pressure, and improved breathing and circulation. Additionally, the same study showed that patients recovering from cardiac trauma, such as heart failure or artery disease, were able to tolerate swimming as part of their rehabilitation regimen. In yet another study, the University of California at Berkeley recommended swimming laps for approximately 30 minutes, three to four times per week, based on an individual’s level of fitness, for improving cardiovascular health.
For people with chronic joint conditions, or other issues with the skeletal system, or who aren’t otherwise in great condition, swimming provides a safe, low-impact alternative to treadmills, stationary bicycles, or even walking on hard surfaces, like pavement or trails. Not only that, but for those who may not be adept, hesitant to learn, or otherwise feel that “swimming isn’t for me,” just walking the length of the pool for 20 minutes is a beneficial. Add in light ankle or wrist weights and you increase the resistance, thereby giving all of the major muscle groups—not just the heart—a great workout.
Healthier Lungs and Improved CirculationHand in hand with what swimming can do for improved heart health is the added benefit to the lungs. Swimming helps the lungs use oxygen more efficiently by elevating the heart rate, so the more you swim, and the stronger your lungs get, the slower your heart rate will become over time, which is what leads to lower blood pressure. End result? Improving lung function through swimming translates to easier breathing all the time—in and out of the pool.
By far, one of the greatest benefits to strengthening your heart is improved circulation. The aerobic exercise that swimming provides boosts circulation, which enables the heart to pump more efficiently and get blood flowing. Even thirty minutes a day can cut the risk of coronary heart disease by 40%. And according to the Annals of Internal Medicine, “blood pressure is improved by swimming aerobically.”
Making it Happen:Swimming is also economical: no fancy equipment necessary. Most communities, large and small, have low-cost alternatives such as public pools or recreations centers to choose from, as well as membership-based gyms and clubs. For even more ideas, check out these links:
• Swimming: Joint Friendly and Good for the Heart
• Heart Health and Swimming Pools
• Swimming Workouts for the Heart and Lungs
Bottom line: adding swimming to your exercise routine may very well lead to reduced blood pressure, less chance of coronary disease and likely, a longer, healthier life!
Becky Flanigan enjoys writing for An Apple Per Day, and focuses on exercise and parenting. She is looking forward to the day when her last child leaves the nest, so she and her husband Ed can start traveling. She would love to lounge around a cruise ship pool, with no family chores to worry about.