What It Is, Health Benefits, and Getting Started

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There are many reasons to take up recreational swimming. Here are a few of the potential health benefits from swimming that you may experience:

Less Joint Pain

As a low-impact movement, swimming is a great exercise option for people with joint problems, especially those who can’t walk, jog, cycle, or use an elliptical machine without discomfort or pain in knees or other joints. “The weight of the water helps give resistance to the joint and is a natural way of helping the muscles get the stimulation they cannot tolerate during typical exercises,” says Mark Slabaugh, MD, a board-certified sports medicine physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

“Joints need motion to produce synovial fluid, which is key to decreasing friction,” Dr. Slabaugh says.

Research in older adults with osteoarthritis bears this out: Swimming for 45 minutes, three days a week for 12 weeks, led to significant improvements in joint pain, stiffness, and physical limitations for study participants.

Improved Heart Health

Like other types of aerobic exercise, swimming improves your cardiovascular fitness, which may lower your risk of heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and stroke, Buckingham says.

For example, one study found that an eight-week swimming program lowered indicators of heart disease risk, such as systolic blood pressure (the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats), body fat percentage, and carotid arterial stiffness (the rigidity of the wall in your carotid artery) in a small group of overweight men.

How quickly you see heart health benefits will depend on how often you swim and how long your sessions typically last. More is definitely better, but even 10 minutes can have a positive impact, Buckingham says. Because swimming requires you to increase your breathing and heart rate, it will improve your endurance.

Better Blood Sugar Control

According to the American Diabetes Association, exercise improves insulin sensitivity, so your body is better able to use insulin to take up glucose (sugar) for energy during and after your workout.

Research supports these claims: Swimming at a high intensity three times a week improved insulin sensitivity and balanced blood glucose in a group of inactive women.

These findings suggest that swimming could potentially reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. And for people with diabetes, swimming may help keep blood sugar in check, a main goal of disease management.

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