At the turn of the century, the average American lifespan was just 47 years old and the leading cause of death was pneumonia, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). By 1930, Americans could look forward to a longer life, averaging about 60 years. But as the threat of infectious disease was stamped out by modern medicine, heart disease rose to become the number one killer in the United States. A longer life meant more time to accumulate plaque in the heart and arteries, leading to higher instances of angina, heart attack and stroke.
Today, an important factor in the road to longevity and reduced risk of heart disease is to remain active throughout life. To effectively combat or reverse heart disease, the CDC recommends committing to at least 2.5 hours of moderately vigorous exercise per week. And while any form of exercise is better than nothing, swimming is easy and accessible for people of all ages and conditions. Recent research by New York State University points out that swimming is one of the most tolerable exercises for people recovering from heart failure or other cardiac conditions. Additionally, water exercise yields other measurable benefits such as a lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, improved circulation, and easier breathing.
More Effective Than Running
Though it's been overshadowed by land-based exercise for decades, recent research on swimming confirms that it's the ideal choice for nearly every person, regardless of age or physical condition - better than running or walking.
A recent longitudinal study by the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas concluded that people who swim for fitness live longer than those who run, walk, or don't exercise at all. Follow-up statistics taken 13 years after the initial study found that only two percent of the participating swimmers had died while eight percent of runners and nine percent of walkers had died. Another study by the Cooper Clinic found that both male and female swimmers showed the best results when it came to measurements of cholesterol levels, maximum energy output and blood pressure compared to people who walked for exercise.
Swimming any stroke (butterfly, back crawl, breaststroke, or freestyle) requires the use of nearly every muscle group in the body, providing a full-body workout. Though a ripped physique might not be your ultimate goal, the American Heart Association recommends strength training at least two times per week. So, if you're swimming for fitness, you'll cover your cardio and muscular bases simultaneously.
Easy on the Body
Beyond the measurable cardiovascular advantage, working out in the water is also low-impact, meaning that people with arthritis, pregnant women, and rehabilitating athletes can all reap the heart-strengthening benefits of swimming. Also, water workouts decrease your risk of injury, even when exercising vigorously.
Because it's not weight-bearing, a swimming routine is an ideal choice for overweight and obese people. The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) recommends swimming because it allows for pain-free exercise which extends workout time when compared to land-based exercise. And because water cushions impact on the joints, swimming is safer than running or walking for overweight people. The associated reduction in swimmers' risk of Type II diabetes further substantiates OAC's recommendation to get in the water.
For pregnant women, swimming is considered one of the safest forms of exercise. The American Pregnancy Association recommends water exercise because it allows women to access an elevated heart rate without the risk of overheating. And, water workouts protect pregnant women from dangerous falls due to newly-formed imbalances in the body.
People suffering from chronic pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, cystic fibrosis, and fibromyalgia can all find a safe space to exercise in the water. The Arthritis Foundation advocates swimming and other forms of water exercise for people suffering from joint pain to stay fit. Water's buoyancy provides the ideal medium for improving range of motion, balance and coordination, and increasing joint position awareness without applying pressure or weight to painful regions or previous injuries.
Thanks to swimming's gentle format, a water exercise routine can be continued throughout life, even into old age. Making a habit of regular fitness swimming early on may increase your lifespan and improve your quality of life.
AUTHOR BIO: This article was written by Lizzy Bullock, a swimmer, Red Cross certified swimming instructor (WSI) and swimming coach with over a decade of experience working with infants, children, and adults. Lizzy currently works as a swimming instructor and staff writer for AquaGear, a swim school and online swim shop.