In recent years, more people have caught on to the many pros of spending time in the water. There are now workout classes where you get to live out your mermaid dreams (tail and all!) or have a full-on dance party to hip-hop music underwater, and even ballerinas are taking advantage of the pool for low-impact sweat-sessions. So, why does everyone seem to be flocking to the water? Well, when it comes to the benefits of swimming, there are plenty. Now, let’s dive in.
The benefits of swimming
1. Swimming can help with joint pain
If all that jumping around in bootcamp classes or logging miles on your runs has resulted in some joint pain, swimming could be the solution. Not only does water give you some relief by reducing the amount of pressure on your body (buoyancy is a beautiful thing), but the warm water also plays a role, helping banish any stiffness or discomfort you’re experiencing. Basically, you’re getting a low-impact, super-soothing workout that’s incredibly gentle on your body.
2. You can improve your mental health by going for a swim
The benefits of swimming aren’t just great for the body—the modality’s effects also extend to the mind. A study published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills found college students who attended swim classes regularly experienced better moods than those who didn’t. Whether you’re having a down day and are in need of a pick-me-up or are going through a rough time in life, heading over to the pool and doing some laps could improve your mental health.
3. Swimming can make you a better runner
If you’re trying to up your running skills, it might be time to hit the pool. In a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, researchers found those who practiced controlled breathing while swimming majorly improved their game. The technique made them able to use their oxygen more effectively, which helped them run faster and not get tired as quickly. And the craziest part? It only took 12 training sessions at the pool to see results.
4. Swimmers tend to live longer
If you want to live as long as possible, swimming seems to be the way to go. In a study of 80,300 participants published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers looked at which types of exercise had the ability to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality the most. While cycling reduced the risk by 15 percent and running didn’t show any significant changes, swimming reduced the risk by 28 percent.
5. Swimming can strengthen your lungs
During other types of exercise—like running or cycling—your breathing tends to be shallow. That’s not the case when you’re swimming, though, and the switch can do a lot of good in strengthening your lungs—especially with all that time you spend underwater. “You breathe in quickly and deeply, and then let the air trickle out. Because your head is underwater when you swim, these breathing adjustments are vital, and they may improve the strength of your respiratory muscles,” David Tanner, PhD, tells Time. “This kind of breathing keeps the lung alveoli—the millions of little balloon-like structures that inflate and deflate as your breathe—from collapsing and sticking together.”
6. It can make your body younger
All exercise is going to help keep your mind and body healthy for years to come. When it comes to swimming, though, the benefits get really impressive. In a study from Indiana University, researchers found swimming 2 to 3 miles anywhere from 3 to 5 times per week can postpone the aging process, delaying natural decline—which typically begins at age 35—to age 70. Yep, it basically helps your body feel decades younger than you actually are.
7. You’ll actually have fun while you’re doing it
If you choose an exercise you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick to it—and what’s more enjoyable than splashing around in the water? Sure, doing breaststrokes up and down a pool is incredibly challenging, but spending time in the pool, in general, is still going to help out your health. Any time spent moving around with all that resistance from the water—even if you’re just playing some enjoyable swimming pool games like Marco Polo or cannonballs—can make a difference.
How to start a swim routine
First things first: get in the water. From there, it’s all about building up your fitness so that you can increase the number of laps you can do in the pool. “The best way to get started on a swim routine is ‘nice and easy,'” says Life Time Aquatics Master Swim Coach and a four-time medal winner Cullen Jones. “It’s best to start off with less yardage and practice doing the techniques correctly then to try to swim 500 laps.”
Her go-to routine for beginners? Practice doing five laps well, with a great breathing routine and a strong kick. When you’ve mastered that, increase to seven, and continue to increase as you improve. If you’re an experienced swimmer looking to up your game, find your comfortable baseline and add more laps in the same way.
How to stay safe in the water
The buddy system! “The most important lesson when it comes to safety around the water is to never swim alone,” says Jones. Even if you don’t have a swim partner around you, make sure there’s a lifeguard or similarly qualified person nearby. And if you’re a beginner, the American Council of Sports Medicine recommends practicing in a pool instead of open water.
How long do you need to swim to get a good workout?
There’s no “one size fits all” answer to this question, because as Jones puts it, “the time it takes to reap the benefits of swimming is a case-by-case, because no two people are the same.” Your best bet is to follow along with the ACSM‘s activity guidelines, which recommend 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (or some combination of the two).
The most important thing, though, is sticking with it. “Although lap count is important, the most vital process is setting a routine and being consistent,” says Jones. “Set a goal to be in the water two to three times a week, and you will truly see drastic differences in your overall fitness.”
When you’re ready to get your swim on, grab one of these 12 perfectly-fitted, one-piece swimsuits. Then find out the best place to go swimming in every state.
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