Health Benefits of Swimming
– by Sarah Ferguson, Breathe Founder & Guinness World Record Holder
I grew up being drawn to water. There is an allure to it that keeps me coming back for more. Some people say that I must have been a mermaid in my past life. Besides my passion for water and being suspended in weightlessness for extended periods, there are a myriad of health benefits that come with swimming.
I could spout the science which can easily be Googled, but I would rather opt to share my personal experiences of the health benefits of swimming as a professional swimmer and a physiotherapist.
For me, the number one benefit of swimming is relaxation. ‘Never regret a swim’ is one of my mottos. No matter how cold air temperatures are, I have never exited the water regretting it. Even though climbing into the pool is sometimes difficult when the weather is freezing, there’s always an overriding internal voice that reminds me of how good I’m going to feel after a swim.
Swimming is one of the few workouts that make use of all the major muscle groups in the body. You just have to look at Olympic Games swimmers to see how beautifully toned their bodies are. All of your body works in symmetry to push through the water, which acts as extra-gentle resistance that air cannot provide. Swimming works your cardiovascular system aerobically and anaerobically (especially if you add some breath-hold training in) and it improves lung capacity. Many swimmers, even some Olympic Games athletes started swimming to assist with managing their asthma conditions.
Swimming has a low impact on the body, which is hugely beneficial for people suffering from lower back pain or joint issues, as well as hypermobile people like me. Being hypermobile gives you extra flexibility which when combined with strength makes for good swimmers. Cases of injury in swimming are few and far between. Those I do see are generally from overexertion and poor technique.
When I swim it allows me to be completely present in what I am doing and disassociate from the world like nothing else. You cannot talk to your mate on social media or chat apps while you swim, so having your face submerged in the aquatic world is meditative and hypnotic. For example, swimming the Molokai Channel in Hawaii in silvery moonlight with inky darkness below has got to be one of my highlights. It’s completely magical. Offshore swimming for hours on end while watching the dancing rays of light penetrate the water way below me is completely mesmerising. One gets lost in time and space.
The act of diaphragmatic inhalation and exhalation while swimming increases oxygen and blood flow through the body and assists in this meditative state. There are no distractions other than the sound of bubbles and if you are in open water, potentially the privilege of encountering some form of marine life.
Body awareness is key to being a competent swimmer as you have to time the coordination of arms and legs with your breathing. On a day-to-day basis most people never really draw attention to their breath. Studies have shown that most people don’t even breathe correctly. E.g. never engaging the diaphragm to draw breath in. Some benefits of this practice range from reduced anxiety to lower blood pressure.
Swimming is great therapy for kids with attention difficulties or coordination issues, as well as scoliosis as it helps to create balance, alignment, control and improved coordination.
Those who have the luxury of outdoor swimming pools have the added benefit of vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Ocean swimming generates natural ozone which comes with a multitude of added benefits. The rapid growth of cold water swimming can be directly attributed to its great benefits. Some of which include a boosted immune system and improved mood.
The benefits of swimming are paramount. Now get yourself a swimsuit, dive into the water and see for yourself what swimming can do for you. You won’t regret it!