The days are darker and colder, our clothing is bulkier, and the holiday parties are in full swing. Knock, knock — the inevitable 10-pound weight gain is at the door. Batten down the hatches and take a plunge into the wonderful world of water. Snow, ice, darkness and gloom are never seen at the pool — only inviting blue, tranquil water and lights that beam down like the sun. One, two, three … jump!
Here are my top 10 reasons to swim:
1. It counts as cardio and strength training: With swimming, if you aren’t constantly moving, you’re sinking — forced cardio! Swimming works every muscle in your body from head to toe, and water is 800 times denser than air, so your muscles are under constant resistance. Many years ago, after completing my first mini marathon, I decided to add swimming to my fitness activities, naively thinking it would be a breeze. Not! I barely reached the other end of the pool before whimpering “911.” How could I have successfully run 13.1 miles just one week before and now barely crawl 25 yards in a pool? The challenge was on to master the art of swimming, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made (still in progress).
2. It’s low-impact: The low-impact nature of swimming makes it a great workout for anyone who has arthritis, injuries or excess weight, and it produces better results than dry land exercises because you can swim at higher intensities on a regular basis without feeling wear and tear on your body. And for those of you who are dedicated runners and walkers, swimming is better than complete rest on recovery days.
3. It’s great for your lungs and heart: When your face is underwater, oxygen is at a premium. In turn, your body adapts to use oxygen more efficiently and learns to take in more fresh air with every inhalation and expel more carbon dioxide with every exhalation. Research suggests swimmers have better tidal volume (the amount of air that moves in and out of the lungs during relaxed breathing) compared to runners, resulting in lower resting heart rate and blood pressure.
4. Anyone can do it: Whether you’re recovering from an injury, have health conditions, are pregnant, a new mom or an Ironman competitor, swimming can give you a great workout (as long as you know how to swim; more on that below). People with multiple sclerosis report decreased pain and increased strength with swimming. You control the pace, intensity and what you get out of every session.
5. It makes you happy and slashes stress: While exercise-induced endorphins will do wonders for your stress levels, getting in the water for your workout may have its own special brand of mood-boosting benefits. Being submerged in water dulls the amount of sensory information that bombards your body. There is a sense of solitude and privacy that you don’t feel in a built environment. You’re not dealing with sirens, screaming bosses, ringing phones or text messages. Studies have found less depression and improved moods in people who are regular swimmers. I concur 100 percent. I participate in various forms of land-based activity, yet it is swimming and my swim group that has kept me floating when I otherwise would have sunk.
6. It turns back the clock: Regular swimmers are biologically 20 years younger than their age. Swimming causes blood pressure, cholesterol levels, cardiovascular performance, central nervous system health, cognitive functioning, muscle mass and blood chemistry to be similar to that of your younger self. My swim coach just turned 80, and he can still kick my butt in a 50-meter butterfly.
7. It hits underworked muscles: You don’t sit at your desk with your arms over your head, but when you’re in the pool, your arms are moving in every plane with the various strokes, strengthening neglected muscles like the lats, deltoids and traps. These upper body muscles don’t get used much with cycling and running. Swimming also develops the deep stabilizing muscles of your core (goodbye, back pain) because it requires you to stay balanced and level while both your arms and legs are moving.
8. It makes you smarter: Research has shown that blood flow to the brain increases by up to 14 percent when immersed in water, increasing your cognitive ability and creative powers.
9. It opens you up to awesome experiences: Want to do a cannonball off the back of a boat next summer? Swim across the San Francisco Bay? Go snorkeling in Belize? Win every game of Sharks and Minnows? Join an adult swim club and make friends for life? Swimming is a life skill, but it also opens the door to a lot of fun!
10. It torches calories: Swimming is an efficient way to burn calories. A 160-pound person burns about 423 calories an hour while swimming at a low to moderate pace and up to 715 calories an hour swimming at a vigorous pace. When doing other low-impact activities, such as walking, that same 160-pound person would only burn about 314 calories walking at a vigorous pace for 60 minutes. Yoga burns just 183 calories per hour.
Learn to swim. Don’t let the excuse “I don’t know how” stop you from experiencing the best decision you could ever make in your life. A shocking 37 percent of American adults cannot swim the length of a 25-yard pool. Even more alarming is that eight of the 10 drownings that occur each day in this country are adults or young adults. If you or someone you love doesn’t know how to swim, you are in luck. The Indy Aquatic Masters Group and Indy Parks has partnered to offer Learn to Swim classes dedicated to helping anyone 18 years old and older incorporate healthier lifestyles through swimming. The goal of the program is to first make you feel comfortable and safe in the water. Skills are added as you progress from novice to beginner to advanced. The lesson progressions are tailored to your needs. The cost is $10 per session for a total of eight sessions. For more information, go to http://www.indyaquaticmasters.com/community/learn-to-swim.
If you already know how to swim, consider volunteering to teach introductory swim classes or ask a friend to join you in the pool and help them along the way. This winter, there is no need to shelve your exercise routine and allow the 10-pound creeper to sneak into your life. Avoid the cold, snow, ice and dark days and find joy in the blue vibrant waters of the pool!•
• Sharon Buechler is an attorney and certified personal trainer, health fitness specialist and life and wellness coach. Opinions expressed are those of the author.