Swimming Has Physical, Psychological, and Social Benefits

Senior Swimmer
Patrik Giardino / Getty Images

Swimming works practically all of the muscles in the body if you vary the type of strokes. Swimming can develop your:

  • General strength
  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Endurance

It does not help with bone density—you need weight-bearing exercise for that—but that is about all that's missing from what swimming can do for your fitness.

Reasons for Swimming Are Varied

Do you swim for the health benefits or for the chance to socialize with friends at the pool? Perhaps you swim because running every day hurts. Maybe you just like the feeling of floating and sliding through the water. Or is it something else?

Swimming provides runners training on a regular basis with an alternate activity that raises the heart rate without impact stress. An injury from running or another form of land exercise may send you in search of exercise that doesn't put weight on a knee or ankle. Swimming can help you. ​Kicking workouts, water aerobics, pool running, or a regular swimming workout can all give you a great exercise session without the weight of your body pounding on your joints with each move.

Regular swimming builds endurance, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness. That ​makes it an ideal cross-training exercise to add to your regular workouts. Before a dryland workout, use the pool for a warmup session. Swim with increasing effort to gradually increase your heart rate and stimulate your muscle activity. After a land workout, swim a few laps to cool down, move blood through your muscles to help them recover, and help you relax as you glide through the water.

Swimming Has Psychological Benefits

Spending time in a group workout, whether water aerobics or a master's swim practice, can be a social outlet. Exchanging stories, challenging each other, and sharing in the hard work make swimming with others a rewarding experience.

There are other psychological benefits to swimming. Relax and swim with a very low effort. Let your mind wander, focusing on nothing but the rhythm of your stroke. This form of meditation can help you gain a feeling of well-being. Other benefits include developing such life skills as:

  • Sportsmanship
  • Time management
  • Self-discipline
  • Goal-setting
  • Increased sense of self-worth

Swim to Burn Calories

Swimming burns calories at a rate of about 3 calories a mile per pound of bodyweight. If you weigh 150 pounds and it takes you 30 minutes to swim one mile, you use about 900 calories in one hour. If you're like many casual swimmers, though, you might not swim for that distance or duration, so swimming isn't the best way to lose weight.

Swimming does exercise almost the entire body—heart, lungs, and muscles—with very little joint strain. It boosts your general fitness, but it's just not a great way to drop excess pounds.

Updated by Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS on December 29th, 2015