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Today in Health & Wellness
FITNESS AND FUEL

Swimming for Exercise

By: Don VelascoSwimming for Exercise

It’s finally summer! Pack your bags and travel to the nearest beach for a fun-filled weekend full of sun, sand, and of course, swimming! While many people think of swimming as a recreational hobby, it can have a few great upsides for those who take it seriously. If you want to get in shape and stay healthy, consider splashing your way to it!

Here are 6 health benefits associated with swimming:

  1. Swimming is a great non-impact way to exercise. Running has taken off the past decade or so but not everyone is built to cope with the pounding it entails. Swimming, on the other hand, is not only safe for those who are on the heavier side, it also helps strengthen your musculature to better support your bones and joints.
  1. Swimming builds cardiovascular fitness extremely well. Swimming is a whole body affair ­– we use almost every muscle in our body to propel ourselves forward. This means our body uses not only more energy but also more oxygen. With increased oxygen demands, our lungs, heart, and blood vessels need to supply our body with as much oxygen-rich blood as possible. This is why our heart rate increases and our lungs expand and contract more rapidly. Over time, this will make them stronger, better, and more efficient at what they do.
  1. Swimming improves our coordination and proprioception (i.e. understanding of the position and movement of the body). Have you ever seen an elite swimmer glide through the water? It almost seems effortless, a symphony of movement that allows him or her to slice through the water with ease. The secret to this is the precise synchronicity between each acute muscle movement: a balance between relaxation and power. To achieve such efficiency, the swimmer needs to be well-coordinated and have a proper feel of the water. As you spend more time doing drills and swimming laps, our mind imprints proper techniques that make swimming easier.
  1. Swimming develops mental toughness and focus. As you try and push yourself to cross the length of a pool, you can already imagine how much effort, energy, and panting is associated with it. Now think of doing it several times with minimal rest. This mental exercise in itself might have activated the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism ingrained in us. Difficulties or challenges may cause us to fold and buckle or make us stronger individuals in the long run. Such is the case with a difficult task like swimming – as we push ourselves harder, we become more familiar dealing with stress and fatigue, thereby making us holistically stronger individuals.
  1. Swimming can help us relax and recover. Swimming doesn’t always have to be tough or hard. As you develop proper technique and enough base fitness, swimming can actually be effortless. Not only does it help cool and refresh our body, but it also gives us some ‘me time.’ When you’re swimming, you often have your head submerged under water; you can barely hear or see anything. This gives us a sense of isolation or seclusion which might just be what we’re yearning for in this hectic overwhelming world. Aside from this, swimming, like most types of exercise, releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine in our brain. This is associated with the ‘runner’s high’ or is also called the ‘feel good hormone.’
  1. Swimming burns a lot of calories. Again, swimming involves the whole body, even muscles we have never heard of before. With each stroke, you are engaging your calves, quads, hamstring, core, deltoids, biceps, and triceps without even knowing it. Due to the nature of water, going faster takes exponentially more effort – imagine walking knee high in water! As you maintain a slow pace, it feels easy; however, speeding up a tiny amount already feels like a huge task. This is why trying to swim faster is usually a futile effort if you don’t have proper technique.

Swimming may seem intimidating at first, but it’s definitely something you can accomplish on your first try. The other thing that swimming imparts is discipline and perseverance. Most swimmers spend years before they finally nailed their technique. Some of them spend several hours a day in the pool to build or maintain their fitness. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to do the same if you just want to focus on health and wellness.

However, if you want to train safely and intelligently, here are a few tips that can help you pursue swimming long term:

  1. Get the right swim attire. Ditch the board shorts and the beach dresses and get some tight-fitting Lycra. More popular brands have materials that are resistant to chlorine and UV light. This will give more longevity to your investments.
  1. Take care of your goggles. After a hard training session, the last thing we want to do is to clean our goggles. However, we really need to, as rinsing our gear with tap water and drying them completely will prevent material degeneration and mold buildup. Just make sure not to touch the inner part of your lens to preserve its anti-fog properties.
  1. Don’t buy all the gear at once. I’ve seen a lot of athletes get overzealous purchasing every single pool toy they can get. Most of the time, we don’t need them (yet). Ask for advice from a seasoned swimmer or coach when it comes to buying stuff like paddles, fins, snorkels, etc.
  1. Invest in a knowledgeable and competent coach! This is probably the most important thing to get you on the right track. Having a coach will help you improve your form, build your fitness, and choose the right gear. Just make sure you make your goals known to him or her. You don’t want to swim like an Olympian just to shed a few pounds!
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