What Every Nervous Swimmer Needs to Know

It’s never too late to get reacquainted with your inner mermaid. Two swim coaches give their best advice for becoming stronger and more confident in the water.

By Corrie Pikul

Womean swimming in pool
Photo: Thinkstock

When you break it down, swimming has a high potential for embarrassment. It requires us to show grace, coordination and strength—all without the security of clothing. This didn’t seem to bother us back when we worked as lifeguards at the YMCA or as splash-happy counselors at Camp Good Times. But over the years, without regular access to a pool or a pond, many of us have grown tentative in the water.

It’s worth rebuilding our confidence, though, because swimming offers a total-body workout like no other. And as many athletes are discovering, this non-impact activity is an excellent alternative for joints that have become stiff from years’ worth of pavement-pounding. It can help us feel weightless—and even ageless. “The water doesn’t know what age you are when you jump in,” said Dara Torres, who at 41 was the oldest woman ever to make the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. “So why not?”

While complete novices are best served by a class or private instruction, some lapsed swimmers just need a little push. We asked two professional coaches for advice on getting back in the swim.

Buy goggles that fit.

This is the best trick for avoiding those uncomfortable under-eye creases. “People think they need to have their goggles on really tight in order to keep the water out,” explains David Marsh, the head coach of SwimMAC competitive swimming club in Charlotte, North Carolina. The problem is that tight eyewear not only presses into sensitive skin, but they also pull across the bridge of the nose, allowing more water to seep in. To find the best fit, treat goggle shopping like swimsuit shopping, and try on as many styles as possible. For recreational swimmers, Marsh is excited about Speedo’s forthcoming Liquid Storm goggles, which will be available early next year. They have a silicone injection in the padding for a softer fit, and thicker double-straps that are less likely to tangle hair.

Build a strong core on dry land.

“Swimming uses every muscle in your body,” says Coach Marsh, “and most of them connect through your core.” To strengthen the muscles around the spine, Marsh recommends the Dead Bug exercise:

Lay on your back with your arms and legs up in the air, like a beetle that’s seen better days. Press your back firmly into the ground.
Without arching or releasing your lower back, lower one leg down to the ground, then bring it back up. Your arms remain up in the air. Repeat with the opposite leg.
Work up to bringing the opposite arm and leg down at the same time. “There’s no compression on the spine, so you can maintain the same line you have when swimming in the water,” says Marsh.
You should be able to tread water for five full minutes without sputtering and gasping, says Marsh. “The phrase ‘treading water’ implies you’re trying to stay up high like a water polo player polo. Focus more on comfortably floating with your head above water without touching the sides or the bottom of the pool.” Move arms back and forth under the surface of the water, bringing them in front of you and then slightly out to the side. Your legs should be flutter-kicking beneath you, with your feet relaxed (not flexed). As a rule of thumb, Marsh recommends warming up in a body of water that actually feels warm and comfortable, as a super-cool pool tends to make us tense up. If the water is chilly, get your blood flowing by doing some calisthenics on dry land and vigorously jumping up and down in the shallow end.

Familiarize yourself with the breaststroke.

It’s important to master a stroke that can easily get you from one side of the pool to the other, and could conceivably take you from a sinking canoe to the shore. For most of us, this is the breaststroke. It’s easy to do, hard to mess up (even when the swimmer is stressed), and takes much less energy and skill than the freestyle or butterfly. Perfect form matters less in this stroke than others, but here’s a quickie refresher:

Extend your arms out front and your legs behind you, Superman-style. Pull your arms back to your shoulders in the shape of an upside-down heart, ending the movement under your chin. “It’s a common tendency to want to pull the arms back all the way to the ribs,” says Coach Marsh.
To kick, pretend you’re a frog. Pull your heels up to your bottom, then turn your toes out 90 degree and push the water backwards with the bottoms of your feet.
If you are comfortable plunging under the surface when you stretch out your arms and legs, go ahead. But if you’re having a good hair day, feel free to keep your head above water.

Take it two laps at a time.

Make it a goal to swim from the shallow end to the deep end and back; this will help you develop stamina. Try to wait to fix your goggles or take a breather in the shallow end, where you’ll be able to stand to the side of the lane and will be less likely to disrupt the rhythm of faster swimmers. Marsh, who has coached tadpoles, Olympians (32 of them), and recently, a 72-year-old former Navy frogman, says that swimming is experiencing a popularity boom, so it’s likely that you won’t be the only person in the pool making a long-awaited comeback.

Ready to advance? Work on your freestyle stroke.

Unlike the breaststroke, breathing really matters here, says Scott Bay, head Masters coach for Team Blu Frog in Orlando, Florida. Many people tend to hold their breath for too long, which quickly causes them to become winded. The other common mistake, he says, is lifting the head too high out of the water. Facing forward causes the hips to drop so that the body is no longer horizontal. Practice using the lane lines and side pool markings to get your bearings so that you won’t need to constantly look ahead.

Learn to turn.

While the flip turn is illegal in breast stroke competitions, it’s a graceful and efficient way to turn around when swimming freestyle. Having trouble? You’re not alone: “Some of the best swimmers on the planet who have been swimming for 30 years will still turn too late during a competition and mess up the flip turn,” says Bay, who also works with U.S. Masters Swimming to certify coaches. There’s no one trick that accommodates every swimmer’s speed, height and arm length, but he does suggest these pointers:

The most common mistake is to do a somersault. Bay’s advice is to bend at the waist in a pike position. “Tuck your chin to your chest, reach for your toes, and throw your feet over. Resist the tendency to curl up in a ball, as that uses more energy.”
Practice doing the flip in the middle of the pool until you have it down.
When you’re ready, start swimming toward the wall, leaving a bit more distance between you and the wall than you think you’ll need. Look for the markings on the pool floor and walls when you begin your flip. If you don’t end up close enough to hit the wall with your feet, you’ll need to pick a new spot on the pool floor or wall and try again, says Bay.
When your feet touch the wall, bend your knees to approximately 90 degrees and give a good push.
Reach your arms in front of you and twist from your core so that you’re belly-down and ready to start your stroke.



Human swimming is the self propulsion of a person through water or other liquid, for survival, recreation, sport, exercise or other reason. Locomotion is achieved through coordinated movement of the limbs, the body, or both. Humans are able to hold their breath underwater and undertake rudimentary locomotive swimming within weeks of birth, as an evolutionary response.[1]

Swimming is consistently found to be among the top recreational activities undertaken by the public,[2][3][4][5] and in some countries, swimming lessons are a compulsory part of the educational curriculum. As a formalized sport, swimming features in a range of local, national and international competitions, including featuring in every modern summer Olympics.

A swimmer performing front crawl

Competitive open water swimming race


Swimming relies on the natural buoyancy of the human body, with the relative density of the average body, compared to water, of 0.98, creating a floating effect. This varies on the basis of body composition, with body fat lowering the density, and increasing floatation.

The relative density difference means that water supports the body during swimming, and therefore makes swimming low impact compared to surface activities such as running where weight is put on to the joints, and also creates resistance when moving through the water. The resistance is used by swimming strokes to create propulsion, but creates drag on the body.

This means that hydrodynamics are an important factor in stroke technique in terms of swimming faster, and swimmers wishing to swim faster, or wishing to tire less will try and reduce the drag caused by the body through the water. In order to be more hydrodynamic, people can increase the power of the strokes, or reduce water resistance, although increasing power to overcome resistance needs to increase by a factor of three to achieve the same effect as reducing resistance.[6]

Efficient swimming by reducing water resistance involves having a horizontal water position, rolling the body in order to reduce the breadth of the body in the water and extending the arms as far as possible in order to reduce wave resistance.[6]


See also: List of swimming styles
Swimming can be undertaken using a wide range of different styles, known as ‘strokes,’ and these strokes are used for different purposes, or to distinguish between classes in competitive swimming. It is not necessary to use a defined stroke for propulsion through the water, and untrained swimmers may use a ‘doggy paddle’ of arm and leg movements which mimics the strokes of quadruped animals such as dogs in the water.

There are four main strokes used in competition and recreation swimming, which are front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. Competitive swimming in Europe started around 1800, mostly using breaststroke and in 1873 John Arthur Trudgen introduced the trudgen to Western swimming competitions, after copying the front crawl used by Native Americans, but substituting a scissor kick for the traditional flutter kick in order to reduce splashing. Butterfly was developed in the 1930s and was at first a variant of breaststroke until it was accepted as a separate style in 1952.

Other strokes exist for specific purposes, such as training or rescue, and it is also possible to adapt strokes to not use parts of the body, either to isolate certain body parts, such as swimming with arms only or legs only to train them harder, or for use by amputees or those suffering paralysis.

Historic record

See also: History of swimming

Timurid conqueror Babur’s troops swim across a river.
Swimming has been recorded since prehistoric times, and the earliest records of swimming date back to Stone Age paintings from around 7,000 years ago. Written references date from 2000 BC. Some of the earliest references include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible (Ezekiel 47:5, Acts 27:42, Isaiah 25:11), Beowulf, and other sagas. In 1538, Nikolaus Wynmann, a German professor of languages, wrote the first swimming book, The Swimmer or A Dialogue on the Art of Swimming (Der Schwimmer oder ein Zweigespräch über die Schwimmkunst).


There are many reasons why people swim, from swimming as a recreational pursuit to swimming as a necessary part of a job or other activity. Swimming may also be used to rehabilitate injuries, especially any kind of cardiovascular injuries and or muscle injuries.


The largest reason for people swimming is as a recreation activity, with swimming consistently ranking as one of the physical activities people are most likely to take part in. Recreational swimming can be used for people to exercise, to relax or to rehabilitate.[7] The support of the water, and the reduction in impact, makes swimming accessible for people who are unable to undertake activities such as running.


Swimming is primarily a cardiovascular/aerobic exercise[8] due to the long exercise time, requiring a constant oxygen supply to the muscles, except for short sprints where the muscles work anaerobically. As with most aerobic exercise, swimming is believed to reduce the harmful effects of stress. Swimming can also improve posture.


Main article: Swimming (sport)
Swimming as a sport predominantly involves competition among participants to be the fastest over a given distance under self propulsion. Different distances are swum in different levels of competition. For example, swimming has been part of Olympic Swimming since 1896, and the current program contains events from 50m to 1500m in length, across all four main strokes and medley.

The sport is governed internationally by the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), and competition pools for FINA events are 25 or 50 metres in length. In the United States of America, USA Swimming is the governing body and a pool 25 yards in length is commonly used for competition.

There are other swimming and water related sporting disciplines including diving, synchronised swimming and water polo, as well as sports which include a swimming element, such as triathlon and modern pentathlon.


Professional swimmers performing a water ballet in Guardalavaca, Cuba
Some occupations require the workers to swim. For example, abalone- or pearl-divers swim and dive to obtain an economic benefit, as do spear fishermen.

Swimming is used to rescue people in the water who may be in distress, including tired swimmers, non-swimmers who have accidentally entered the water, or water users who have come to harm. Lifeguards or volunteer lifesavers are deployed at many pools and beaches worldwide to fulfill this purpose, and they, as well as rescue swimmers, may use specific swimming styles for rescue purposes.

Swimming is also used in marine biology to observe plants and animals in their natural habitat. Other sciences use swimming, for example Konrad Lorenz swam with geese as part of his studies of animal behavior.

Swimming also has military purposes. Military swimming is usually done by special forces, such as Navy SEALs. Swimming is used to approach a location, gather intelligence, sabotage or combat, and to depart a location. This may also include airborne insertion into water or exiting a submarine while it is submerged. Due to regular exposure to large bodies of water, all recruits in the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are required to complete basic swimming or water survival training.

Swimming is also a professional sport. Companies sponsor swimmers who are at the international level. Many swimmers compete competitively in order to represent their home country in the olympics. Cash awards are also given at many of the major competitions for breaking records.[citation needed]

Professional swimmers may also earn a living as entertainers, performing in water ballets.


Locomation by swimming over brief distances is frequent when alternatives are precluded. There have been cases of political refugees swimming in the Baltic Sea[9] and of people jumping in the water and swimming ashore from vessels not intended to reach land where they planned to go.[10] Swimming travel is central to the plot of the motion picture “Welcome”. US president John F. Kennedy led his sailors swimming island to island after his torpedo boat was sunk in World War II. His senator brother Ted Kennedy claimed to have left Chappaquiddick Island by swimming.


A sign warns hikers on the trail to Hanakapiai Beach.
There are many risks associated with voluntary or involuntary human presence in water, which may result in death directly or through drowning asphyxiation. Swimming is both the goal of much voluntary presence, and the prime means of regaining land in accidental situations.

Most recorded water deaths fall into these categories:

Panic where the inexperienced swimmer or non swimmer becomes mentally overwhelmed by the circumstances of their immersion, leading to sinking and drowning. Occasionally panic can kill through hyperventilation even in very shallow water.
Exhaustion where the person is unable to sustain efforts to swim or tread water, often leading to death through drowning.
An adult with fully developed and extended lungs has generally positive or at least neutral buoyancy, and can float with modest effort when calm and in still water. A small child has negative buoyancy and will either sink rapidly or have to make a sustained effort to stay near the surface.

Hypothermia where the person loses critical core temperature, leading to unconsciousness or heart failure.
Dehydration from prolonged exposure to hypertonic salt water, less frequently salt water aspiration syndrome where inhaled salt water creates foam in the lungs that restricts breathing.
Hypothermia and dehydration also kill directly, without causing drowning, even when the person wears a life vest.

Blunt trauma in fast moving flood or river water.
Less common are

Other adverse effects:
Exostosis is an abnormal bony overgrowth narrowing the ear canal due to frequent, long-term splashing or filling of cold water into the ear canal, also known as surfer’s ear.
Infection due to water-borne bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
Chlorine inhalation (in swimming pools).
Adverse encounters with aquatic life:
Stings from sea lice, jellyfish, fish, sea shells, and some species of coral.
Puncture wounds caused by crabs, lobsters, sea urchins, zebra mussels, stingrays, flying fish, sea birds, and rubbish.
Hemorrhaging bites from fish, marine mammals, and marine reptiles, occasionally resulting from predation.
Venomous bites from sea snakes and certain species of octopus.
Electrocution or mild shock from electric eels and electric rays.
Around any pool area, safety equipment is often considered important[11] and is a zoning requirement for most residential pools in the United States.[12] Supervision by personnel trained in rescue techniques is required at most competitive swimming meets and public pools.


A Styrofoam flotation aid being used.
Main article: Swimming lessons
Children generally do not swim independently until 4 years of age.[13]

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Estonia and Finland, the curriculum for the fifth grade (fourth grade in Estonia) states that all children should learn how to swim as well as how to handle emergencies near water. Most commonly, children are expected to be able to swim 200 metres (660 ft) – of which at least 50 metres (160 ft) on their back – after first falling into deep water and getting their head under water. Even though about 95 percent of Swedish school children know how to swim, drowning remains the third most common cause of death among children.[14]

In both the Netherlands and Belgium swimming lessons under school time (schoolzwemmen, school swimming) are supported by the government. Most schools provide swimming lessons. There is a long tradition of swimming lessons in the Netherlands and Belgium, the Dutch translation for the breaststroke swimming style is even schoolslag (schoolstroke). The children learn a variant of the breaststroke, which is technically not entirely correct.[citation needed] In France, swimming is a compulsory part of the curriculum for primary schools. Children usually spend one semester per year learning swimming during CE1/CE2/CM1 (2nd, 3rd and 4th grade).

In many places, swimming lessons are provided by local swimming pools, both those run by the local authority and by private leisure companies. Many schools also include swimming lessons into their Physical Education curricula, provided either in the schools’ own pool, or in the nearest public pool.

In the UK, the “Top-ups scheme” calls for school children who cannot swim by the age of 11 to receive intensive daily lessons. These children who have not reached Great Britain’s National Curriculum standard of swimming 25 metres by the time they leave primary school will be given a half-hour lesson every day for two weeks during term-time.[15]

In Canada and Mexico there has been a call for swimming to be included in the public school curriculum.[16]

In USA there is the Infant Swimming Resource (ISR)[17] initiative that provides lessons for infant children, to cope with emergency situation when they have fallen into water. They are learned how to roll-back-to-float (hold their breath underwater, to roll onto their back, to float unassisted, rest and breathe until help arrives).

Clothing and equipment


Boardshorts are a popular type of casual men’s swimwear.
Standard everyday clothing is usually impractical for swimming and is unsafe under some circumstances. Most cultures today expect swimsuits to be worn for aquatic activities.

Men’s swimsuits commonly resemble shorts, or briefs. Casual men’s swimsuits (for example, boardshorts) are rarely skintight, unlike competitive swimwear, like jammers or diveskins. In most cases, boys and men swim with their upper body exposed, except in countries where custom or law prohibits it in a public setting, or for practical reasons such as sun protection.

Modern women’s swimsuits are generally skintight, covering the pubic region and the breasts (See bikini). Women’s swimwear may also cover the midriff as well. Women’s swimwear is often a fashion statement, and whether it is modest or not is a subject of debate by many groups, religious and secular.

Competitive swimwear is built so that the wearer can swim faster and more efficiently. Modern competitive swimwear is skintight and lightweight. There are many kinds of competitive swimwear for each gender. It is used in aquatic competitions, such as water polo, swim racing, diving, and rowing.

Wetsuits provide both thermal insulation and floatation. Many swimmers lack buoyancy in the leg. The wetsuit reduces density, and therefore improves buoyancy while swimming. It provides insulation by absorbing some of the surrounding water, which then heats up when in direct contact with skin. The wetsuit is the usual choice for those who swim in cold water for long periods of time, as it reduces susceptibility to hypothermia.

Some people also choose to wear no clothing while swimming. This is known as skinny dipping. It was common for males to swim naked in a public setting up to the early 20th century. Today, skinny dipping can be a rebellious activity, or merely a casual one.


Ear plugs can prevent water from getting in the ears.
Noseclips can prevent water from getting in the nose. However, this is generally only used for synchronised swimming. Using noseclips in competitive swimming can cause a disadvantage to most swimmers. It is for this reason that noseclips are only used for synchronised swimming and recreational swimming.
Goggles protect the eyes from chlorinated water, and can improve underwater visibility. Tinted goggles protect the eyes from sunlight that reflects from the bottom of the pool.
Swim caps keep the body streamlined and protect the hair from chlorinated water.
Kickboards are used to keep the upper body afloat while exercising the lower body.
Pull buoys are used to keep the lower body afloat while exercising the upper body.
Swimfins are used to elongate the kick and improve technique and speed. Fins also build upper calf muscles.
Safety fencing and equipment is mandatory at public pools and a zoning requirement at most residential pools in the United States.[18]
See also

Portal icon Swimming portal
Aquatic ape hypothesis
Aquatic locomotion, non-human swimming
Ice swimming
List of swimmers
List of swimming styles
List of water sports
Mixed bathing
Resistance swimming
Skinny dipping
Stunt swimming
Swimming (sport)
Swimming machine
Swimming pool
Total Immersion


10 Health Benefits of Swimming

by Michael Franco

Start the Countdown

Not only is swimming a relaxing activity, it also has a host of health benefits.


In the 1985 Ron Howard movie “Cocoon,” a group of elderly adults discovers that a nearby swimming pool has the power to imbue them with new strength, enhanced energy and a more youthful sense of well-being. While the cause of their new lease on life turns out to be from another planet, it doesn’t take alien technology to reap the benefits of your neighborhood pool.

Even without the aid of mysterious otherworldly cocoons, regular swimming can offer anyone, especially older adults, a wide range of health benefits — including feeling and looking younger. Here, we’ll dive into the 10 ways taking to the water can boost your health.


Swimming offers something no other aerobic exercise does: the ability to work your body without harsh impact to your skeletal system. When the human body is submerged in water, it automatically becomes lighter. When immersed to the waist, your body bears just 50 percent of its weight; dunk yourself to the chest and that number reduces to around 25 to 35 percent; with water all the way to the neck, you only have to bear 10 percent of your own weight. The other 90 percent is handled by the pool.

This means that the pool provides an ideal place to work stiff muscles and sore joints, especially if you’re overweight or suffer from arthritis.

In its recommendation for the right types of exercise for people with arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation suggests those that stretch muscles, those that strengthen muscles, and those that provide an aerobic workout. A few laps in the pool combine all three!

If the pool is heated, so much the better for arthritis sufferers, as the warm water can help loosen stiff joints. In fact, people with rheumatoid arthritis receive greater benefits to their health after participating in hydrotherapy than with other activities. It’s also been proven that water-based exercise improves the use of affected joints and decreases pain from osteoarthritis [source: CDC].


Once you start swimming regularly, it won’t take you long to go from flabby to fit.


Ever see a flabby dolphin or a weak-looking competitive swimmer? We didn’t think so. That’s because swimming is a great way to increase muscular strength and muscle tone — especially compared to several other aerobic exercises.

Take running, for example. When a jogger takes few laps around the track, that jogger is only moving his or her body through air. A swimmer, on the other hand, is propelling himself through water — a substance about twelve times as dense as air [source: Yeager]. That means that every kick and every arm stroke becomes a resistance exercise — and it’s well known that resistance exercises are the best way to build muscle tone and strength.

There’s yet another bonus of a watery workout: Swimming has also been shown to improve bone strength — especially in post-menopausal women [Source: Huang, et al.].


Unlike exercise machines in a gym that tend to isolate one body part at a time (like a bicep curl machine, for example), swimming puts the body through a broad range of motion that helps joints and ligaments stay loose and flexible. The arms move in wide arcs, the hips are engaged as the legs scissor through the water, and the head and spine twist from side to side. Plus, with every stroke, as you reach forward, you’re lengthening the body, which not only makes it more efficient in the water, it also helps give you a good stretch from head to toe.

To improve your flexibility beyond the natural gains you’ll make by swimming, you might also want to finish your pool workout with a series of gentle stretches. The support of the water should help you maintain positions involving tricky balance — such as a quadriceps stretch — for longer periods of time.


Swimming is a strenuous activity that will make you more heart-healthy.


In addition to toning visible muscles like pectorals, triceps and quads, swimming also helps improve the most important muscle in our bodies: the heart.

Because swimming is an aerobic exercise, it serves to strengthen the heart, not only helping it to become larger, but making it more efficient in pumping — which leads to better blood flow throughout your body. Research also shows that aerobic exercise can combat the body’s inflammatory response as well — a key link in the chain that can lead to heart disease [source: Columbia University Medical Center].

If that’s not enough to get you moving in the pool, the American Heart Association reports that just 30 minutes of exercise per day, such as swimming, can reduce coronary heart disease in women by 30 to 40 percent. Additionally, an analysis by the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that regular aerobic exercise could reduce blood pressure [source: Bobalik].


For some time, some people thought that because water is generally cooler than our body temperatures, it would be difficult to lose weight with a water workout. Like many old ideas about exercise, this has since been revised: Swimming is now recognized as one of the biggest calorie burners around, and it’s great for keeping weight under control.

The exact number of calories you burn, of course, depends on your own physiology and the intensity with which you exercise, but as a general rule, for every 10 minutes of swimming: the breast stroke will burn 60 calories; the backstroke torches 80; the freestyle lights up 100; and the butterfly stroke incinerates an impressive 150.

To boost the calorie-burning component of swimming, consider using intervals in which you work your hardest for short bursts and then recover. One way to structure this kind of workout would be to swim 50 yards (45.7 meters) then rest for 10 seconds, then 100 yards (91.4 meters) with a 10-second rest, then 150 yards (137.1 meters) — all the way up to 300 yards (274.3 meters) with rests in between. When you reach 300 yards, reverse the pattern [source: Petterson].


Swimming will strengthen your lung capacity, which can improve asthma symptoms.


Unlike exercising in the often dry air of the gym, or contending with seasonal allergies or frigid winter air, swimming provides the chance to work out in moist air, which can help reduce exercise-induced asthma symptoms.

Not only can pool workouts help you avoid asthma attacks if you’re prone to them, some studies have shown that swimming can actually improve the condition overall. According to a study published in the scholarly journal, Respirology, when a group of kids completed a six-week swimming program, they saw improvements in symptom severity, snoring, mouth-breathing, and hospitalizations and emergency room visits [source: Science Daily]. What’s more, the health benefits were still apparent a year after the swimming program had ended [source: Physorg].

Even those without asthma could benefit from swimming, say the study’s authors, as the exercise can increase lung volume and teach proper breathing techniques.


Being healthy is more about having the right ratio of cholesterol in your body than just having low amounts of the stuff in your blood. Specifically, it’s beneficial to have higher levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lower levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.

Swimming can get these levels in the right balance thanks to its aerobic power, which has been proven to raise HDL levels. And for every 1 percent increase in HDL cholesterol, the risk of dying from heart disease drops by 3.5 percent [source: Bobalik].

What’s more, studies have shown that aerobic exercises like swimming can also keep your endothelium in good shape. What’s your endothelium, you might wonder? It’s the thin layer of cells that lines your arteries, and it tends to lose flexibility as you age. In one study of people in their sixties who participated in aerobic exercise, however, endothelium function was found to be equal to those 30 to 40 years younger. The theory is that because aerobic exercise causes arteries to expand and contract, it keeps them fit [source: Bobalik].


Aerobic exercise, especially swimming, can lower one’s risk of diabetes.


When it comes to warding off diabetes, there are few prescriptions as powerful as aerobic exercise. In one study, men reduced their risk of diabetes by an average of 6 percent for every 500 calories a week they burned in aerobic exercise [source: Bobalik]. With just 30 minutes of breaststroke swimming three times per week, you could burn 900 calories — reducing your risk of contracting type 2 diabetes by over 10 percent. A study that focused on women also suggested the same benefits for the fairer sex: Vigorous exercise just once a week (like the kind derived from a robust swimming session) lowered their risk of contracting type 2 diabetes by 16 percent over inactive women [source: Bobalik].

And, if you already have type 1 diabetes, the aerobic benefits of swimming can be particularly helpful, as this type of exercise can increase insulin sensitivity [source: University of Maryland].

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetics should get 150 minutes per week, spread across at least three days per week, of moderate-intensity physical activity like swimming to aid glycemic control.


William Wilson wrote in the 1883 book, “The Swimming Instructor”: “The experienced swimmer, when in the water, may be classed among the happiest of mortals in the happiest of moods, and in the most complete enjoyment of the happiest of exercises.”

Wilson probably didn’t know this in the 19th century, but all that happiness was likely due to the release of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins — one of swimming’s most pleasant side effects. In addition to a natural high, swimming can also evoke the relaxation response the same way yoga works on the body. This is due in large part to the constant stretching and relaxing of your muscles combined with deep rhythmic breathing. Swimming is also a meditative exercise, with the sound of your own breathing and the splash of the water acting as a mantra of sorts that can help you “drown out” all other distractions.

Aside from the metaphysical benefits of swimming, research has shown that it can actually change the brain for the better through a process known as hippocampal neurogenesis, in which the brain replaces cells lost through stress [source: Borchard].


Here’s a good reason to get into the pool: It may prolong your life.


If the previous nine reasons weren’t enough to convince you of the health benefits of swimming, perhaps this one will: It can keep you from dying.

Actually, we’re not promising Aquaman-like immortality, but it seems that swimming can at least help you avoid dying prematurely. Researchers at the University of South Carolina followed 40,547 men, aged 20 to 90, for 32 years and discovered that those who swam had a 50 percent lower death rate than runners, walkers or men who got no exercise. The study authors concluded that the same benefits would be received by aqua-women as well as men [source: Prevention].