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Low Impact Exercise with a High Impact on Your Health

By Michelle Mills

Swimming is just about as good as it gets for a total workout. Water has been considered one of the best therapeutic options for centuries. Swimming is the second most popular exercise activity in the United States and a good way to get regular aerobic physical activity. Just two and a half hours per week of aerobic physical activity, such as swimming, bicycling, or running, can decrease the risk of chronic illnesses leading to improved health for people with diabetes and heart disease.

If you don’t love working up a sweat but do love the benefits of a cardio workout swimming may be your best bet. The water helps keep you cool even as your heart rate rises allowing you to workout longer. Water-based exercise puts minimal stress on your joints and provides a heart-pumping cardiovascular workout that builds endurance and helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Swimming has long been at the top of the low-impact exercise list. The resistance of water forces your muscles to work harder, toning your back, triceps, biceps, chest, stomach, and leg muscles as you swim. “Swimming isn't about perfect strokes -- at least, not at first," says Jane Katz, EdD, professor of health and physical education at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York, and author of Swimming for Total Fitness: A Progressive Aerobic Program. "New swimmers should just focus on getting into the water and moving."

Is It Still Good for Me If I Have a Health Condition?

Whether you want to get or stay in shape, swimming is a suitable exercise for all ages and fitness levels. Exercise can be challenging for anyone that feels unfit. However, swimming allows you to set your own pace and level of workout. Swimmers have about half the risk of death compared with inactive people. They can also exercise longer in water than on land without increased effort or joint or muscle pain.

Water-based exercise can help people with chronic pain, diseases, and illnesses:

  • For people with arthritis, swimming improves use of affected joints without worsening symptoms. It also decreases pain from osteoarthritis.
  • If you are pregnant, the buoyancy of the water will take stress off your joints.
  • It is also a good choice if you have low back pain. Warm water can be very soothing.
  • If you have diabetes, an aerobic activity like swimming can be a very important part of your diabetes treatment plan. It will help you burn calories, lose weight, and keep your blood sugars under control.
  • If you have high cholesterol, you will also benefit from swimming. It will help you lower your ''bad'' LDL cholesterol and raise your ''good'' HDL cholesterol.
  • Swimming helps increase lung capacity and may improve asthma symptoms.
  • Children with cerebral palsy can improve their motor functions.
  • People with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other physical disabilities find that swimming is an excellent workout option because water provides support and resistance.
  • Exercise releases endorphins, which improve mood. It is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Check with your doctor first if you are having joint pain, have had a recent injury, joint replacement, or are having an arthritis flare.

Studies have noted that “after adjustment for age, body mass index, smoking status, alcohol intake, and family history of cardiovascular disease, swimmers had 53%, 50%, and 49% lower all-cause mortality risk than did men who were sedentary, walkers, or runners, respectively.”


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