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An ever-growing number of participants of high-impact forms of exercise, such as runners, basketball, football, and baseball players, are turning to swimming for conditioning to avoid the injuries that are caused by these sports.
Why? Three reasons. First, in the water, your body's weight is completely supported, thus preventing most of the common injuries related to land-based exercise. Second, because the possibility of injury is so greatly reduced, swimming makes it easier to get a more rigorous workout. And finally, swimming uses and conditions more of your body's muscles than most other forms of exercise, which results in a great overall workout.
The benefits of swimming are not limited just to those who want to avoid the injuries common to other forms of exercise. Those recovering from exercise-related—and non-exercise-related—injuries can also benefit. Why? Because swimming's non-impact, low-stress nature is often the best exercise method to strengthen injured joints or limbs without making the original injury worse.
And swimming's benefits do not end there. Again, because of its non-impact nature, swimming is often an excellent form of exercise for those who suffer from chronic pain due to arthritis or back-related injuries. Since it is usually done in a warm, humid setting, swimming can also be a good choice for people with asthma.
A couple of cautionary notes, however. Before you start an exercise program, talk to your doctor. If you have an injury or a condition, your doctor will need to approve any exercise routine and monitor your progress. While swimming is usually a good option for people, if you have certain conditions, you may need to take extra precautions. For example, for some asthma or eczema sufferers, high chlorine levels in the pool can worsen their condition or trigger symptoms.
Of course, swimming for exercise does require a couple of things—the ability to swim and a relatively large body of water (usually a pool) in which to swim. Fortunately, neither requirement is extremely difficult to meet. Most people learn to swim as children. But even if you did not, most local YMCAs, YWCAs, and/or Red Cross divisions offer adult swimming lessons.
Even if you learned to swim as a child, taking a few refresher swimming lessons is a good idea. Improved swimming mechanics and a knowledge and mastery of a variety of swimming strokes will generally improve your enjoyment, increase the benefits of any swimming-based exercise program, and reduce the risk of injuries.
As for finding a place to swim, many health clubs have a pool. But, if that is not the case where you live (or this option is too expensive), the pool at most community YMCAs and/or YWCAs is usually available at a reasonable fee.
Your health insurance plan may cover part of the cost of joining a swim club. If you are active or retired military, you probably have privileges at the base pool. And many communities offer their residents the use of the local high school, junior high school, and/or municipal pool at no cost or a nominal fee. For more specific listings of places where you can swim for exercise near where you live, you can check the Swimmers Guide and the US Masters Swimming Association websites.
As noted, if you are a beginner (or suffer from a chronic injury or condition), first check with your doctor. Then dive right into your swimming-based exercise program!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
US Masters Swimming
Beggs S, Foong YC, Le HC, Noor D, Wood-Baker R, Walters JA. Swimming training for asthma in children and adolescents aged 18 years and under. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(4):CD009607.
Chapter 4: Exercise and asthma. Partners Healthcare website. Available at: http://www.asthma.partners.org/newfiles/BoFAChapter4.html. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Chlorine "allergy". American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology website. Available at: http://acaai.org/allergies/types/allergy-myths/chlorine-allergy. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Swimming. Georgia State University website. Available at: http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwfit/swimming.html. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 2/3/2014