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Summer months in hot countries like India can make it difficult to pursue any kind of physical activity, especially those that are performed outdoors. Running, walking, cycling or playing a sport outside must be done either early in the morning or towards late evening to escape the soaring temperatures in the middle of the day. 

Whether you live in a landlocked city or on the coast, swimming is a necessary life skill to have, besides being an excellent hobby or physical activity. The repetitive motion in swimming makes it an aerobic exercise and it is a great alternative to practice in the summer months when little else seems inviting, given the heat and humidity.

Swimming is also a low-impact method of exercise as it preserves the health of bones and joints in the long run as compared to exercises like running or exercising in the gym, which means it is one of the rare physical activities that one can continue doing even in old age. It is also a great social activity for families and friends.

While it has its drawbacks such as limited access to swimming facilities in cities, excessive costs and winter making it difficult for people to pursue it throughout the year, swimming has more benefits than limitations. Swimming is also included in various rehabilitation programmes for those recovering from injuries. Swimming is also beneficial for people looking to increase their endurance (stamina) and strength.

  1. Benefits of swimming
  2. Types of swimming strokes
  3. Tips to get started: swimming for beginners
  4. Drawbacks and risks of swimming
  5. Takeaways

Swimming has several benefits that aren’t only limited to physical health; it has a great impact on the quality of anyone’s life for multiple reasons:

  • Relieves stress: Much like other forms of exercise, swimming reduces stress and its several symptoms and complications.
  • Excellent cardio: Being an aerobic exercise, swimming is a terrific activity for heart and lung health. The reason: every part of your body is exercised to keeping you moving in the water.
  • Weight and calorie regulation: Swimming is a great exercise for maintaining body weight, without even having to worry about sweating profusely. Swimming helps you burn the same amount of calories as running.
  • Builds bone density and mass: If you thought only weight-training exercises help in building bone strength, think again. A 2003 study explained that while running remains the best activity to preserve and build bone mass, even swimming had positive effects on bone density and weight. Indeed, swimming is one of the recommended exercises for osteoporosis.
  • Builds muscle endurance and strength: The resistance provided by the water is effective for building strength in the muscles throughout the body as compared to running, which mostly focuses on the lower half of the body. 
  • Full body workout: Swimming requires the muscles in your legs and arms to be working together at all times to make your move swiftly through the water, and also engages the entire midsection of the body including the core muscles, making it a great full-body workout.
  • Improves body coordination: Swimming is also great to boost balance in the body. Here's how: both sides of the body need to make an equal effort. Swimming is also known to improve the body’s posture by easing the pressure on the muscles in the back while being afloat.
  • Improves flexibility: Swimming helps in easing muscle stiffness and helps in enhancing flexibility in the body. (Read more: How to improve flexibility)
  • Recovery from injuries and illness: Swimming or water-based movements are usually a part of several rehabilitation programmes for people who have suffered from musculoskeletal problems in the past like repetitive strain injuries and workout injuries. Swimming also helps people deal with degenerative problems such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
  • Cools the body: The oppressive heat can be severely restricting for people living in hot conditions, and swimming helps in cooling down the body in a natural way, helping the muscles and bones in the body to relax. (Read more: Heat stroke symptoms, causes, prevention, diagnosis and treatment)
  • Manages asthma: Those with breathing difficulties or suffering from asthma or related ailments stand to improve their physical condition by swimming regularly. Working out in a gym or indoors can aggravate breathing difficulties, but being in the water helps in boosting the health of the lungs and builds more endurance in the body.
  • Improves sleep: Lack of sleep or insomnia is a condition common among older people, and swimming is a great activity to alleviate problems concerning sleep disorders. Aerobic exercises have positive effects on sleep and swimming is a great way to get a good night's sleep.
  • Mental benefits: Physical exercise is one of the guaranteed ways of feeling better due to the production of endorphins in the body - endorphins help promote positive thoughts. Swimming is known to have positive effects on people suffering from conditions such as dementia as well, and generally helps retain memory besides being an excellent mood lifter.
  • Safe for pregnant women and kids: Swimming is one of the rare physical activities women are encouraged to do at any stage of their pregnancy, as it is known to help develop the brain function of the child. Growing children are also encouraged to swim as it helps in developing their muscles and bones and building immunity as well as improving brain function in children.
  • Increased life expectancy: Multiple researchers have pointed to a higher life expectancy among those who swim as opposed to those who don’t. Swimming is also known to have a better effect on life expectancy than even running.

Swimming has four distinct styles, all of which are practised routinely at various swimming pools all over the world. These are:

  • Breaststroke: A popular stroke in which the swimmer is on their stomach in the water. He or she moves the legs ("whip kick") and arms in a circular motion to propel the body forward through the water.
  • Backstroke: In which the swimmer is on their back and makes rapid movements with the feet to stay afloat. The arms and hands move in the reverse direction of the freestyle swimming movement; that is, they cut through the water in a semi-circle, make a wide arc in the air and repeat.
  • Butterfly: One of the more difficult and advanced strokes to perform, the swimmer kicks twice per stroke in this motion.
  • Freestyle: This is the most common style of swimming. In this style, the swimmer is on their stomach in the water. He or she moves the legs rapidly up and down - alternating between the left and right side. Similarly, he or she moves one arm in a semicircle through the water at a time.

Swimming is a universal physical activity which can be performed by people of all ages and physical states, besides being an extremely useful life skill. For those starting out, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Ensure that the pool you where you take a membership or sign up for swimming lessons has a lifeguard on duty at all times.
  • Wear proper swimming gear when you head to the pool, i.e., a comfortable swimsuit, swimming goggles and a swimming cap. Swimming aids, snorkels or swimming fins for the feet can also help while you are learning the ropes. You can use earplugs for additional protection for your ears. (Read more: Swimmers' ear symptoms, causes, treatment)
  • Shower before entering the pool as it helps remove all the dirt and sweat from the body before entering the water.
  • Warm-up and stretch before entering the water to avoid cramps.
  • Listen to the instructor and experienced swimmers at all times for any improvements you can make to your swimming technique.
  • Keep yourself hydrated. Swimming takes up a lot of energy and it is essential to keep yourself hydrated before and after a swimming session.
  • If you are just starting out, it is also recommended to seek a doctor’s opinion to get an all-clear.
  • You can supplement your swimming classes with weight-training programmes to help you build strength for improved performance in the pool.

Swimming has more benefits than drawbacks. Newer urban dwellings are coming up with modern facilities that include public pools and training centres, ensuring that there are more opportunities for people to take up swimming. However, there are some of the drawbacks associated with swimming:

  • Water quality: Because it is a seasonal sport (some facilities offer heated swimming pools in the winter, but not all), swimming also attracts a lot of people at the same time into the pools, compromising the quality of water to swim in. To counter this, most public swimming pools opt to increase the amount of chlorine they put in the water, which can also cause infections of the skin, making people prone to rashes and other skin irritations.
    For those who live in towns with rivers, lakes or other water bodies, swimming may be cost-effective but there is little they can do to control the quality of water. It is also advisable to only swim in rivers, ponds and lakes if you are an excellent swimmer and only if you know the depth of the water. Do check that the current is not too fast. Do check for any warnings against swimming, such as crocodiles in the water.
  • Risk of infection: Public pools have change rooms and bathrooms that can be a source of infections and diseases as they are used by several people at the same time, which can be a deterrent for people.
  • High cost: Many cities do not have adequate swimming facilities to cater to everyone. The few facilities that are there are very crowded, and the ones in hotels and other private areas can be expensive to access.
  • Few places to learn swimming: The lack of public swimming pools also means there aren’t too many places to learn how to swim, especially for older people.

Swimming is an excellent physical activity that is meant for people of all ages as well as physical states. It has several benefits besides boosting your cardiovascular and muscular capacity. For example, it helps people with injuries and illnesses live better. It is also considered to be an excellent way to be social and form a community of like-minded people.

Swimming also helps in being one with nature, especially if you have access to safe, natural water bodies - this can even increase your chances of taking up water-based sports.

Despite the few drawbacks of public swimming pools, the lack of facilities in cities, the high cost of membership in certain places, swimming is a great activity to pursue and must be encouraged. Finally, it also an important life skill, one that everyone should have.

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References

  1. Health Harvard Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Dive into a swimming regimen.
  2. Köroğlu M and Yiğiter K. Effects of Swimming Training on Stress Levels of the Students Aged 11-13. Universal Journal of Educational Research. 2016; 4(8): 1881-1884.
  3. Lee BA and Oh DJ. Effect of regular swimming exercise on the physical composition, strength, and blood lipid of middle-aged women. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. 2015 Oct; 11(5): 266–271. PMID: 26535217.
  4. BDA: The Association of UK Dietitians [Internet]. British Dietetic Association. Birmingham, United Kingdom. Benefits of swimming
  5. Abou-Dest A et al. Swimming as a Positive Moderator of Cognitive Aging: A Cross-Sectional Study with a Multitask Approach. Journal of Aging Research. 2012 Dec; 273185.
  6. Florentin A et al. Health effects of disinfection by-products in chlorinated swimming pools. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. 2011 Nov; 214(6): 461-469.
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