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Benefits of Swimming

As summer days heat up, swimming is a great way to get a low-impact, total-body workout that burns calories and tones muscles without ever breaking a sweat!

Swimming can help:

  • Strengthen your muscles and improve your muscle tone
    Because water mass provides many times the resistance of air, moving through it requires you to contract and relax multiple muscles. The repeated muscle contractions helps strengthen/tone muscles just like strength training with weights and resistance bands.1 Varying your strokes can work almost every muscle you’ve got, including your abdominals and core muscles, shoulders, biceps, triceps, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors.
  • Improve your balance and flexibility
    Research shows that regular exercise such as swimming strengthens muscles of the core — including the abdomen, middle back, lower back, hips, and sides. Having greater core strength helps support and stabilize the body for better balance. In addition, regular exercise of any kind, including swimming, can help exercisers stay flexible as they age.2
  • Improve your heart and lung health
    Like other aerobic workouts that use your heart and lungs, swimming engages multiple muscle groups and improves the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body. Since your heart is a muscle, the more it pumps, the stronger it gets; and as the heart pumps faster and breathing increases to send more oxygen to the blood and muscles, the lungs get stronger.1,2 

    To get the most out of your time in the water, your swim should not be too easy or too difficult. Swim at least 20 minutes or more at a moderate to vigorous pace to raise and maintain your heart rate at its target (approximately 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate) for your age, gender, and fitness. If you want to lose weight and increase your fitness, swim or engage in another aerobic activity 5 times per week, maintaining your target heart rate zone 45 to 60 minutes.
    • If you are a man, you may calculate your recommended maximum (target) heart rate by subtracting your age from the number 220. For example, if you are age 30 years, your maximum heart rate should be 220 – 30 or 190 beats per minute; if you are age 40 years, your maximum heart rate should be 220 – 40 or 180 beats per minute
    • If you are a woman, you may calculate your recommended maximum (target) heart rate by subtracting your age from the number 226

Ask your Summit Medical Group doctor to determine
a safe and effective target heart rate for you.

  • Protect your joints
    Because being in the water lightens the load of body weight on all joints, swimming is a great exercise option if you are pregnant, overweight, or experiencing joint soreness or arthritis. Swimming also can be a useful exercise is you are recovering from certain injuries and need to strengthen your muscles and build stamina without stressing the joints. Some people with arthritis suggest they experience less joint pain and stiffness as a result of their swim routines. 3 If you’re fit, adding swimming to your workout routine can give your joints a rest from weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, running, and cycling.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
    Studies show swimmers can burn ≥350 calories in a half hour, depending on the stroke, your weight, and your pace.4 Strokes that require more strength, including butterfly and freestyle, are likely to burn more calories than breaststroke or backstroke. Swimming vigorously enough to sustain your target heart rate for a half hour or more and eating a calorie-conscious diet that takes your activity level into consideration can help you achieve goals for a healthy weight.

Unlike weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, running,
and cycling, swimming does not increase bone density;
so be sure to vary your exercise routine with a mix of activities
to ensure overall fitness and bone health.

Like all exercise that improves overall fitness, swimming helps guard against certain conditions and diseases such as insomnia, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke.5,6 In addition, the National Sleep Foundation suggests people who exercise regularly and vigorously are twice as likely to report having a good night’s sleep as those who are inactive.7

If you’d like to add swimming to workout routine but don’t know where to start, ask your local Y or swim club about classes. Then check with your doctor to be sure it’s safe for you to begin. If you are recovering from an injury, ask your physical therapist if swimming is right for you.

As with all exercise programs,
starting slowly and gradually increasing your speed and intensity
will increase the odds that you’ll continue swimming!


1. Pöyhönen T, Keskinen KL, Hautala A, Malkia E. Determination of hydrodynamic drag forces and drag coefficients on human leg/foot model during knee exercise. Clin Biomech. 2000;15(4):256-260.

2. Taunton JE et al. Effect of land-based and water-based fitness programs on the cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility of women aged 65 – 75 years. Gerontol. 1996;42(4):204-210.

3. Alkatan M et al. Improved function and reduced pain after swimming and cycling training in patients with osteoarthritis. J Rheumatol. 2016; 45(3):666-672.

4. Borg G.A.V. Psycholphysical bases of perceived exertion. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 1982;14:377-381.
5. Tao L et al. Exercise training protects against acute myocardial infarction via improving myocardial energy metabolism and mitochondrial biogenesis. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2015;37(1):162-175.

6. Thorton JS et al. Physical Activity prescription: a critical opportunity to address a modifiable risk factor for the prevention and management of chronic disease: a position statement by the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine. Br J Sports Med. 2016. [Epub ahead of print.]

7. National Sleep Foundation. Results of the National Sleep Foundation 2013 Sleep in America poll show a compelling association between exercise and better sleep. sleepfoundation.org/media-center/national-sleep-foundation-poll-finds-exercise-key. Accessed June 20, 2016.