The third Saturday in May is celebrated as Learn to Swim Day, and this year it falls on May 20th. While you probably received swimming instruction as a child, swimming may not be an activity you’ve done in a while unless you’ve gone the lifeguarding route or have participated in competitive swimming. As adults, most of us just jump into the water to cool off and kind of splash around rather than actually swim.
Learn to Swim Day provides a valuable reminder not only of the vast importance of safety in an around bodies of water, but also that swimming offers lots of health benefits. And it’s certainly the perfect time of year to pick up a nice, new warm weather workout.
Here are five good reasons why you should consider donning your suit and heading to a pool near you.
Swimming is an All-Around Workout
Instead of splitting your workout time between an aerobic activity and a strength training activity, swimming efficiently allows you to accomplish both at once. Doing laps in a pool helps you to improve your cardiovascular health and offers the muscles of your arms, legs, and core adequate resistance for toning. Plus, doing the breaststroke burns approximately 300 calories in 30 minutes, and the butterfly burns around 325 calories in 30 minutes, so feel free to mix up your routine.
Water is Relaxing
If you can carve out a little bit of extra time around your swim, you may be able to get a mental boost from your choice of workout. A 2016 study at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand found that simply being in the presence of water can have a calming effect and reduce psychological distress.1 Nutsford, Daniel; et al. “Residential exposure to visible blue space (but not green space) associated with lower psychological distress in a capital city.” Health & Place. May 2016. Accessed 2 May 2017. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353829216300119. In this case, the positive effects will probably be more pronounced if you can do your swimming in a natural setting such as a lake rather than a pool, but who knows? Maybe just sitting quietly and watching the pool water shimmer and sparkle can do the trick. Either way, just schedule your waterside time to avoid peak hours when a horde of kids will be running around if you’re seeking a relaxing environment.
Low Impact is Gentler on Your Body
With the water surrounding you and buoying your body, swimming may be the ultimate low-impact workout. This is ideal if you experience joint or muscle pain from higher impact activities such as running or jumping rope. Swimming is also great exercise for athletes after an injury, allowing you to get fit again without placing too much stress on the recovering area (with the approval of your physical therapist or doctor).
Outdoor Time is Important
Unless you’ll be swimming at a large public pool or indoors, chances are good that the location of your swim will be enhanced by some greenery, plant life, and other forms of nature. Not only does that make for a more appealing atmosphere, but simply spending time outside is good for you. A 2010 study at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom showed that even five minutes of exercise in a green environment can benefit your mental health.2 Barton, Jo and Pretty, Jules. “What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis.” Environmental Science & Technology. 25 March 2010. Accessed 3 May 2017. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es903183r. What’s more, if you swim while the sun is out, you’ll help your body produce its necessary stores of vitamin D, which has been shown to boost the immune system and help protect against cancer, heart disease, and more.
A Workout That is Easy to Customize
Aquatic exercise can be quite varied, depending on your fitness level and other factors. Swimming is easy to begin as long as you learned how at some point and have access to a pool. If you’re planning to swim in the ocean or another natural body of water, make sure you are aware of currents and other potential dangers. And even if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you can safely start a swimming program. Just begin at a slow pace and only do as many laps as you can with a plan to build your endurance. Another option is to take a swimming class or aquatic workout class at a local gym or YMCA to proverbially dip your toe into this form of exercise and make some workout buddies who also enjoy the water. When you’re ready to expand your swimming horizons, you can learn new strokes, set speed goals for yourself, take up water aerobics or volleyball, or incorporate the use of paddles to add to the resistance.
There is one caveat when it comes to swimming in a pool. If the water is chlorinated, you are going to absorb harmful chlorine and chlorine byproducts through your skin and through your lungs as you breathe while swimming.3 Cardador MJ, Gallego M. “Determination of haloacetic acids in human urine by headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.” J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2010 Jul 1;878(21):1824-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20541479 And the more time you spend in the pool, the more you will absorb. Then again, if you’re showering in chlorinated water, that’s really not much different.
|↑1||Nutsford, Daniel; et al. “Residential exposure to visible blue space (but not green space) associated with lower psychological distress in a capital city.” Health & Place. May 2016. Accessed 2 May 2017. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353829216300119.|
|↑2||Barton, Jo and Pretty, Jules. “What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis.” Environmental Science & Technology. 25 March 2010. Accessed 3 May 2017. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es903183r.|
|↑3||Cardador MJ, Gallego M. “Determination of haloacetic acids in human urine by headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.” J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2010 Jul 1;878(21):1824-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20541479|