Low-impact and fun to do, swimming is popular activity with women of all ages. If you're thinking about taking up swimming as part of your exercise regime, read on to get the low-down on how to get fit while you get wet.
Because the human body is 90% water, its density is very similar to the density of water. This is why you get a feeling of weightlessness when you're swimming. It's also why swimming is a great form of low-impact exercise, making it extremely popular with people who are elderly, pregnant, recovering from an injury, disabled or extremely overweight. The other advantage of swimming is that it is a great cardiovascular workout, that elevates the heart and respiratory rates, improving overall health.
When you swim, you exercise all of the muscles in your body. However, your upper body and arms are getting much more of a workout than your legs. If you want to use your legs more, try doing the breast stroke, which generates greater leg movements than the front crawl. If you are supplementing your swimming with exercise on land, where the legs are used more, you might want to try doing the front crawl to give your arms an additional workout.
When you swim breaststroke or backstroke, you burn about the same number of calories as you would by walking fast or jogging slowly. More vigorous swimming will, obviously, burn more calories. For the average woman, doing the front crawl vigorously for 30 minutes will burn about 350 calories.
Swimming During Pregnancy
Swimming is a completely safe and excellent exercise for expectant mothers. Just be sure to check with your doctor or midwife before you jump into the pool. If you swam before you got pregnant, you should have no problem at all. If you didn't exercise at all before your pregnancy, start slowly with some gentle stretching, go easy and listen to your body. Just stay out of the hot tub or sauna once you get out of the water. Extreme heat can sometimes slow the development of the fetus.
Swimming as Rehabilitation
Swimming is a great way for athletes to quickly bounce back after injuries and physiotherapists will often recommend it to their clients. One of the most famous examples of an athlete who used swimming to speed a recovery is the runner, Mary Slaney. After suffering an injury to her Achilles tendon, Slaney trained only in the water for three weeks. Less than a week after returning to land-based exercise, she set a world record in the 1000 meters.
Aqua fitness and Aquaerobics
Aqua fitness and aquaerobics are both excellent ways to get aerobic workouts without the high impact typical of aerobic exercise. Incorporating many movements seen in dry-land aerobics with specialized equipment for deep-water workouts, many people who have suffered from injuries, or who have conditions that make high-impact too difficult or dangerous, use aqua fitness to stay healthy and improve or maintain their cardiovascular fitness. Aqua fitness and aquerobics are also great forms of exercise for pregnant women and elderly people who might not be able to exercise otherwise.
While swimming is undoubtedly good exercise, if you're planning on using it as your only form of workout, be aware that it does not use your leg muscles as much as exercises done on land do. Because our leg muscles are the largest muscle groups in our bodies, swimming cannot work the total muscle mass. Also, because swimming is so low-impact, it is not good for maintaining bone density, so don't look to swimming to help prevent osteoporosis. To off-set this, it is recommended that, if you are able to, do other exercises outside of the water, such as lunges, running, walking, or cycling, two to three times a week to help ensure total fitness.
The other drawback of swimming that researchers have discovered is that, while swimming is great for overall fitness, it is not a very effective tool for weight loss. The reasons for this are not entirely understood. Here are some theories:
- Because water cools the body so much, it is thought that the bodies of swimmers might aim to maintain a layer of fat under the skin for insulation.
- Some researchers believe that being surrounded by cold water for a period of time may increase the appetite, causing swimmers to eat more once they get out of the water.
- Another theory states that people who are successful swimmers may also be genetically disposed to having a higher body fat content, since this leads to increased buoyancy and a rounder shape will offer less resistance in the water.
- Swimming fast requires a high output of energy, which burns glycogen instead of fat. Prolonged exercise at a lower intensity is better for fat burning.
- It is believed that the body's metabolism increases at higher body temperatures. Since the body is cooled while swimming, this could reduce the metabolism and the subsequent amount of food energy burnt by the swimmer.