When you were a child, you may have loved swimming. Whether in a backyard pool or in an ocean or lake, there was no getting you to stop splashing around, and you may also have been on a town or school swim team, doing laps on a regular basis in practice and revving into high gear for a swim meet.
Now that you're an adult and most likely not on a competitive swim schedule -- nor is it likely that you have a summer with only leisure time -- it may be time to get back into the pool and start swimming laps again.
Swimming has numerous health and fitness benefits, especially as you age, so the fun of the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle can now add a fresh kick to your exercise regimen.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swimming is the fourth-most popular sports activity in the United States, a top way to get regular aerobic exercise. The CDC reports that just 2 1/2 hours of swimming per week can help decrease the risk of chronic illness. "Swimmers," says the CDC, "have about half the risk of death compared with inactive people."
Swimming laps is a low-impact aerobic exercise that works out your heart and puts minimal stress on joints while building endurance and helping to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Plus, the resistance of the water (12 to 14 percent more resistance than air) forces your body to work harder, toning biceps, triceps and back, chest, stomach and leg muscles for all-over toning benefits.
Exercising in the water has several benefits over exercising on land. When you swim, says the United States Water Fitness Association, 90 percent of your body is buoyant in the water, "so you are not hitting the floor as hard as you would on land. No pounding or jarring!" Flexibility improves; circulation increases; bone strength stays strong (important for post-menopausal women!); endurance grows; and you get the confidence charge of beating your prior lap times as you continue your swimming regimen. Also, the cooling effect of water disperses your body heat more effectively, which can make exercising more comfortable than you would be on land in a hot gym or workout room.
Additional benefits of swimming include:
--Fitness. A swimming regimen can help strengthen your body and, of course, provides a great cardiovascular workout, provided you're swimming at a good pace and not just gliding or floating.
--Therapeutic effects. If you've had a back or other bodily injury, your doctor may suggest swimming as a low-impact workout to help keep you in shape and help rehabilitate your injured body parts.
--Stress release. Fitness overall creates calming hormones and is a smart element of a wellness plan. And when you're swimming, you can forget about work, home and money pressures in your daily life.
You may have heard that swimming doesn't burn many calories compared with running, biking and other exercises. But at a brisk pace, you can often burn the same number of calories as you do with a brisk walk, a medium-level intensity aerobics class or a slow run. Everything you do for your health adds up. You'll find online calculators projecting how many calories you'll burn doing specific kinds of exercises, but keep in mind that calculators aren't always accurate, and the number of calories you burn depends on your weight and gender and the intensity and duration of your workouts.
In addition to lap swimming, you can add on benefits, such as toning and relaxation, with several in-water workouts, including:
--Water walking. Moving forward, backward or sideward to work your muscles differently.
--Water aerobics. If your knees can't take on-land aerobics, do these fun exercises in water. Water's buoyancy makes them easier. And some people claim that if no one can see their feet clearly beneath the water, their lack of coordination isn't noticed!
--Water toning. If you use floatable hand weights and other in-water fitness equipment, muscles get strengthened and firmed.
--Flexibility classes. In-water classes led by a trained and licensed instructor can help you improve your flexibility, important as you age, and also help you heal from injuries.
--Water yoga. Relaxing yoga classes are now offered in the pool.
--Water running. Flotation devices are used to lift you, and you can make running movements with your legs to get in a run without any jarring impact on your legs, knees, feet, hips or back.
Consider pairing your lap swimming with one or more of the above in-water exercises to keep your interest level high, add variety to your workouts and keep your enthusiasm up, and keep a journal of your lap times and other fitness goals to further motivate you toward better health.