Swimming: Still What Its Cracked Up To Be

Swimming: Still What It’s Cracked Up To Be

During the past year of the pandemic, many of us have been eschewing our usual haunts where we were able to take part in some exercise.  Now that things are slowly opening up again, let’s take a moment to re-appreciate what swimming can do for us. 

Swimming and COVID

FIRST, some of you may be wondering if the chlorine (and bromine) used to disinfect pool water also kills the Covid virus.  According to the CDC, the answer is “yes.”  That would include pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas as long as they are properly maintained. 

So, there is that.  However, this does not include the air you breathe once you are out of the pool.  The recommendation is that you wear a mask when not in the water.  Also, you may want to stay away from any pools that are crowded, or that are not sanitizing their locker room areas. 

One more thing…swimming is great for people with asthma because warm air (and water) helps to keep the airways open.  But some folks with asthma wonder if chlorine fumes can trigger an attack.  According to the CDC, the concentration of chlorine in the air is not enough to be a trigger.

What Makes Swimming Great

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at why swimming is awesome, and has often been touted as the ultimate exercise

  • In spite of the fact that the water acts as a buoy for the up to 90% of your body that is submerged, swimming is a great total body workout.  You have to counteract the resistance that water imposes as you try to move through it. This is obviously true whether you are doing laps, doing water aerobics, or even taking a dip in your favorite lake.
  • There is a lot to be said about working your muscles as you lengthen them, as you would be if you are using a stroke to do laps.  Lengthening your muscles can be a welcome relief to them if they spend a good part of the day in a shortened position (sitting, doing yard work or household tasks, even participating in some sports). 
  • Lengthening your muscles helps them relax, especially if you are including slow, regular, and probably deep, breathing with the process.  Think about how great it feels to have a good stretch after a workout.  Especially if you are doing laps, deep, regular breathing is going to be a skill that you will need to develop.  A side benefit to the activity and the relaxation is that it can lead to a good night’s sleep.
  • Swimming is a great calorie burn.  It’s hard to tell how many calories a person burns during a water aerobics class, because a lot depends on the type of class and the instructor.  But let’s compare 10 minutes of swimming different strokes to running.  Running a 10-minute mile burns about 100 calories.  10 minutes of breast stroke burns about 60 calories, 10 minutes of backstroke burns about 80 calories, freestyle about 100 calories, and the butterfly a whopping 150 calories for 10 minutes. 
  • Back to the buoyancy thing.  Because water keeps you buoyant, it is easy on your joints, and reduces discomfort in cranky joints.  This is why swimming is often recommended for people with arthritis.  It is also particularly good for people with MS or Parkinson’s disease because these diseases often come with widespread stiffness, weakness, coordination issues, and problems with balance.  Additionally, better movement will improve blood circulation, while at the same time keeping body temperature down. 
  • Allowing folks to move more freely and get in a good workout will of course eventually lead to all the benefits that come from aerobic exercise.  That would be, among other things, reduction of inflammation, prevention of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, high blood pressure, and anxiety and depression.  There can be increases in flexibility because of working muscles and joints through large motions.  There can be an increase in mental sharpness.  
  • Last but not least is the question of improvements in bone mineral density.  For a long time, swimming was categorized as a “non-weightbearing” exercise.  As such, it was thought not to contribute to bone density as is the case with running, walking, or many sports.  Then it was discovered that using your muscles and tendons pulls on your bones and will strengthen them because bones respond to the pull.  However, swimming is still not as good for your bones as weight-bearing activities. 

All in all, it’s a good picture.  And, it appears that it is now “safe to get back in the water.”  Keep swimming in mind when you are weighing your exercise options.  It can bring a huge payoff for your efforts. 


© 2021 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved
Photo Credit: Chendongshan / iStock

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