Better than walking: How swimming can benefit your health

Swim swiming
(Photos: Unsplash)
Swimming is one of the more unique forms of exercise that is as innate as running — stone-age cave paintings depict humans swimming and babies are born with an innate swimming reflex. Modern competitive swimming has been one of the world’s most popular sports since the 1830s. But you do not have to swim competitively to reap the positive health benefits that swimming can offer.اضافة اعلان

Swimming is both a sport and a recreational activity. Whether at the beach or in an Olympic pool, swimming is an activity almost anyone can take part in. Competitively, the sport consists of four different stroke styles: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. One of the most decorated Olympians of all time, US swimmer Michael Phelps, is a master of all four. For beginners, the breaststroke, which is the easiest and slowest, is usually the one you learn first. For those seeking toned and built muscles, the butterfly stroke is the most effective. There are a lot of online materials that can help you learn how to perform each technique. While learning different styles is not a requirement, it can be an exciting challenge to keep you interested in the sport.

Health benefits
Swimming can at the very least provide the same basic cardio exercise as walking, but it brings with it benefits that walking does not. A study from the University of South Carolina with a sample of over 40,000 participants found that swimmers were at a 53 percent, 50 percent, and 49 percent lower risk of death by any cause than men who were inactive, walkers, or runners, respectively. Many of the benefits of swimming stem from the fact that there is greater resistance in water than on land. Compared to cardiovascular exercise on land, swimming requires more force per movement. Therefore, swimming is more effective at building endurance and muscle capacity quickly. Additionally, a study from Harvard revealed that swimming at a slow pace burns around 200–250 calories per 30 minutes, while a vigorous pace would burn upwards of 350 calories, which is almost double the amount of calories of walking or light jogging.

While high impact cardio exercises such as running can severely damage the joints over time, swimming can actually make joints more flexible and aid in the recovery process. In a study of elderly women’s cardiovascular response to different forms of exercise, results found that they were able to exercise for longer and with less muscle and joint pain in water than on land. Additionally, swimming has been shown to not only relieve the pain of joint conditions such as arthritis but also restore some function and mobility as well. Another study attempted to develop a form of water exercises known as hydrotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis patients. It was found that all patients improved both physically and emotionally, and showed improvements in joint tenderness and range of movement as well as a decrease in the belief that the pain was out of their control. Moreover, when compared to other forms of exercise such as seated immersion, land exercise, or progressive relaxation, hydrotherapy produced the greatest improvements.

Other than the benefits of swimming as an exercise, researchers have also investigated immersion in water as a form of cardiotherapy. A study of the cardiac response of elderly patients with chronic heart failure to immersion in a temperature-controlled swimming pool recorded an overall improvement of capacity and function of the heart. Another study of immersion therapy found that for patients with fibromyalgia, swimming is effective in enhancing both physical and mental health. Participants saw improvements in functional capacity for walking, stair-climbing, stiffness, anxiety, depression, and balance. Even without moving, being partially submerged helped, especially for those with preexisting medical conditions.

Water-based therapies and exercises can benefit those already in good health. A study of pregnant women found a wide range of physical and psychological effects for those who participated in water immersion and exercise. Not only was there an improvement of mood and mental well-being, but it proved valuable for the prevention and treatment of pregnancy related illnesses such as gestational diabetes (i.e., a form of diabetes caused by pregnancy). Additionally, a study of the effect of water exercise on postmenopausal women’s bone density concluded a significantly positive result, leading to healthier bones. Along with the proven positive effect on cardiac health of elderly, a 2007 study from an elderly day service facility showed that water exercise significantly improved the health-related quality of life and ease of activities of daily living for the frail seniors.

How to swim safely
An estimated 236,000 people drown every year; it is the third leading cause of unintentional death worldwide. Although there are risks involved, when performed safely these risks can be minimized. Some important recommendations for safety include never swimming alone, having young or inexperienced swimmers wear life jackets, keeping a first aid kit nearby, and following the beach or pool safety rules that prohibit running, diving, and pushing others. Learning to swim from a young age is also an effective way to prevent accidental deaths by drowning. The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh recommends all children aged four and older to enroll in a swimming program.

Focusing on swimming with proper form is important to prevent injury. Despite being overlooked by many beginners, coordinating your inhales and exhales with your head position in swimming strokes is one of the most essential elements of proper swimming form. Many swimming coaches recommend humming while exhaling to slow breathing and set a steady pace. If you try to lift your head out of the water, you will be forcing your shoulder or torso to go deeper into the water, which will negatively impact your swim speed and take more of your energy. Practice turning your head without lowering other parts of your body to compensate. Although beginners often attempt to rely mostly on the upper body, the lower body is just as, if not more, important. For proper kicking form, your legs should be straight, stiff, and streamlined directly behind the body. However, when mimicking the flippers of aquatic animals, your feet should remain flexible and loose. Additionally, rotating your hips is essential for an effective stroke. Positioned in the middle of the body, the hips are the clear coordinator of the movement and transfer of momentum between the upper and lower body. Allowing your hips to rotate as you lift your arms for each stroke will allow for a more seamless distribution of power.

Swimming in Jordan
Swimming has always been a beloved activity in Jordan. Whether at Amman Waves, Sports City, or Aqaba, many Jordanians have no shortage of childhood memories in the water. Jordan is currently experiencing what the Olympics committee refers to as the “golden generation of Jordanian swimmers”. Athletes like Baqlah Khader and his older sister Talita are making history for Jordan, both having qualified for the Olympics and setting records the likes of which our country has never seen. Organizations like Swim Jordan are improving inclusivity and accessibility for all Jordanians wishing to be competitive swimmers or even just have a fun swim at the pool. Swim Jordan encourages swimming as a confidence building and healthy environment for growth for people of all ages, genders, and abilities (both physical and mental).

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