Swim and Live Longer  

by Pool Builders on 03-17-2011 in Articles

Most of us swim for recreational purposes, either in play or as a means of cooling off on a warm day. Just the feeling of buoyancy in the water can be a great stress reliever, not to mention having all the gravitational pressures removed from our joints, muscles and bones. But swimming can do so much more than help relieve stress. We know that any exercise is good exercise, but swimming has many extra benefits that could very well extend the length of one's life. Let's take a look.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, swimming (as a noun) is "the sport or activity of propelling oneself through water using the limbs." The act of moving our limbs through water at a rapid rate amounts to aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is that which improves the oxygen system in the body, which in turn benefits the metabolic processes within. As we strengthen our energy-producing systems, we strengthen all the muscles involved with respiration - our heart and lungs. By bolstering the heart (remember it is a muscle), the pumping efficiency is improved thus leading to a reduced resting heart rate. If the heart is allowed to rest, it will live longer - and so will you. Additionally, aerobics increase the total number of red blood cells running through our body which means we have more energy, better mental health and stronger muscles.

Alright, aerobic exercise is important but why swimming in particular? The short answer is low-impact. Since the human body is of a similar density as water, we float. The water supports the body, even cushions it; the same cannot be said for running or speed walking. Those with joint problems or who are recovering from an injury find water work and swimming a very non-injurious activity for rehabilitation and exercise. In fact, the resistance experienced as the limbs move through the water mean a higher level of activity can take place without risk of injury. Regular movement and exercise is important at any age, but with the elderly it is important as a means of retaining mobility. Swimming is a wonderful way for the elderly to get their exercise without fear of injury.

How can swimming extend our life? We know that aerobic exercise is important and that being in the water while exercising lowers the instance of injury, but how can swimming in particular be a form of movement that will extend our life? Let's take a look at a study done by the University of South Carolina to answer that question. Over a 32 year period the team of researchers studied 40,000 men aged 20 to 90 years, enrolled in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. They took into account the subjects age, weight, body mass index, medical history and exercise habits. The first report presented at the 2008 World Aquatic Health Conference showed that men who swam regularly had 50% lower risk of dying than men who ran, walked or led sedentary lifestyles. Also, the swimmers were found to have a higher cardiorespiratory fitness level than the other groups. Dr. Steven Blair, the lead physician in the study, believes this is the main reason for the increased life expectancy among male swimmers. Although the study did not include female subjects, we can assume the results would be similar. There was, however, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine indicating that the practice of swimming as a regular, lifelong form of exercise did lower the instance or breast cancer and miscarriage in women.

Simply from the point of view of safety, it is important for every person of any age learn to swim. One never knows when the need to swim will become a necessity of life. Adding to the safety aspect, there is stress relief, aerobic exercise resulting in a stronger heart, a higher lung capacity, increased muscle strength and improved mental health. All these benefits add up to a longer life. Swim and live longer.

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