Australians are known the world over as fun beach-goers, great swimmers, and excellent surfers. In fact, perhaps because we are surrounded by the vast Pacific, Antarctic, and Indian Oceans, we are naturally inclined to the water. I, for one, love swimming. It’s a great way to get fit and stay healthy. More importantly however, is that there are other benefits of swimming than just physical fitness. It also helps you feel good about yourself. Of course, for some, it’s one great way to flaunt their bodies in a swimsuit or even a bikini.
Swimming is an excellent workout to develop cardiovascular endurance. The mere fact that you are constantly keeping yourself afloat makes your muscles to be working all the time. And every time muscles work, they need oxygen. The more forceful their contractions, the more oxygen they will need; lest, they go into oxygen starvation mode. To help in the delivery of oxygen, the heart must be able to pump more blood. Initially, it does this by pumping very fast to meet the metabolic demands of the body. However, over time, it also tires and every pumping action is delivering lower amounts of oxygen. That is why you have to rest as well and literally catch your breath.
Once replenished, the heart can resume pumping blood at a rapid pace again. Sadly, doing so for a prolonged period of time damages the elasticity of blood vessels. So, the heart will have to think of a better way to deliver more oxygen without necessarily having to increase the heart rate. Good thing, with repetitive exertion, the muscles of the heart grow bigger and longer making them more efficient at pumping. You know that you have reached full cardiovascular endurance when you are doing Olympic-paced butterflies and your heart rate is still at a steady pace. This is what separates athletes from mere health buffs. The heart is able to meet the metabolic demands of the body by strengthening the force of its contraction without increasing its rate.
This also helps you tone your muscles. Personally, I have seen well-toned arm and leg muscles primarily because of the constant use of these muscles. The reason for this is because you are working against water resistance. Studies show that swimming is equivalent to doing resistance training using light weights in the gym. Additionally, since water pressure is relatively constant, the amount of resistance force is directly proportional to your physical exertion. The more forceful your swim strokes are, the greater is the resistance value. This should help you get a more toned body.
I have a friend who has respiratory problems. I think she has asthma. Whenever we go to the gym, she would readily fall short of breath and make it difficult for her to continue. However, if we go to a swimming pool or even the beach for a dip, she doesn’t get any asthma-like symptoms. The reason for this is that air in the swimming pool is relatively more humid than that in the gym. Moist air allows oxygen in the atmosphere to be absorbed in the alveoli of the lungs faster and more efficiently. Additionally, it does not dry the airway passages which can otherwise irritate the airway surfaces and trigger airway spasms. Furthermore, swimming can be very beneficial in improving overall lung function. As you will be working on your breathing, you also tend to train your lungs to fill to their maximum capacity.
In relation to being an excellent cardiovascular endurance training, swimming makes for an excellent weight loss program. For example, if you weigh around 55-60 kilograms like I do, swimming freestyle at a fast pace can help you burn as much as 600 calories per hour. If you do the butterfly, you will burn around 650 calories an hour. Treading water in a fast and vigorous manner can help you burn around 590 calories. Now add this with eating sensibly and you can have your ideal weight in no time at all.
Perhaps what really motivates me to keep on swimming is the mental tranquillity it provides after the swim. Studies have proven that swimming can help boost the level of endorphins produced by the brain. This is what gives you that overall feeling of mental calmness and relaxation right after swimming. You may feel your heart pounding off your chest but your mind is as clear and calm as the peaceful sky.
Different individuals can derive different benefits from swimming. For me however, the best benefit is its ability to make me feel good about myself physically and mentally. It definitely makes me fit and complete.