It is a well-known fact that humans are composed of nearly 70 percent water.
The earliest humans relied on water as a source of safety, food, navigation, and even recreation. This may not come as a surprise as about 70 percent of the earth’s surface is water. As we’ve evolved, water has become one of the largest sources of recreation and pleasure.
Today, it provides one of the best means of exercise. According to Wallace J. Nichols, author of “Blue Mind”, 38.7 percent of the U.S. participated in some type of water recreation and exercise. Exercises include fitness swimming, surfing, scuba diving, jet-skiing, fishing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle-boarding in the year 2012. Around the world, over 500 million people choose water-based recreation as a means of exercise as well as fun.
What are the benefits?
Swimming is an incredible workout for the mind and body, especially the respiratory and cardiovascular system. You don’t need to be the next Michael Phelps to reap the benefits of swimming for fitness. Due to the buoyant forces of water, swimming is easy on the joints. Thus, swimming makes an excellent workout for those who may be disabled, recovering from injury, or dealing with arthritis or other joint-related conditions. Another benefit of swimming as a means of exercise is convenience. To swim, one only needs themselves and a body of water. In fact, training in open water is comparable to resistance training due to the presence of winds, currents, and ever-changing conditions.
Swimming is optimal for respiratory health and endurance. Large muscle groups of the body, such as those in the arms and legs, work hard to propel you through the water. Meanwhile, smaller muscles involved in inspiration and expiration work to keep you breathing. As a result, the lungs receive a greater volume of blood. Water exerts pressure on the chest wall, causing the lungs to work up to 60 percent harder to breathe. In other words, as you tone muscles of the arms, back, core, and legs, respiratory muscles are improving their strength and efficiency as well. The muscles benefit from greater overall circulation as they receive larger amounts of blood.
Another reason swimming is a highly efficient workout is due to the fact that it expends a great amount of chemical energy. This requires a greater amount of work done by the muscular system to both lengthen and contract muscles with each reach and pull, resulting in a large caloric expenditure.
Swimming has profound cognitive effects as well. By initiating the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids, swimming reduces the brain’s response to stress and anxiety. In fact, some theorize that the feelings of relaxation produced by a good swim workout are related to the same “relaxation response” triggered by activities like hatha yoga. This is due to the deep rhythmic breathing swimming causes, which help put swimmers into a quasi-meditative state.
In addition to creating a rhythmic, relaxing experience for the mind and body, swimming actually provides a learning experience for the brain. After birth, humans are equipped with innate skills that allow us to easily crawl and eventually stand and walk. Swimming, however, is a learned skill; even though we spend our first nine months of life in water, we are not quite born with a natural ability to swim. As we learn to swim and continue to as a means of exercise, we experience an increase in the number of new neurons in the region of the brain linked to learning and memory. With this increase in neurons comes greater cognitive functionality. Regular exercise, especially swimming, can help preserve our cognitive abilities as we age.
Is it for you?
It’s clear that swimming has unique effects on the body and mind, making it a great mode of exercise and leisure for people of all ages and ability. Swimming provides a challenging yet relaxing experience resulting in improved overall strength and cardiovascular endurance. The effect that being in water has on us as humans is beneficial for our mental and physical health as it has been proven to make us significantly stronger and happier.
Would you like to know more ways to become fitter and happier? Visit CORE to speak to a personal trainer about achieving your fitness goals and becoming a better you! If you are looking for other exercises to product positive cognitive effects, check out our Acupuncture sessions (great for relieving stress), or look into our Therapeutic Exercise services!