We had our first real snow of the season today in Chicago. And that means more indoor fitness activities for many of us. It’s a good time to talk about the benefits of swimming!
As a young child, my parents used to take us to the local high school pool twice a week for open swim. Now in their 70’s, both my mother and father try to swim at least 3 times a week. It’s great exercise, easy on the joints and helps keep their muscle tone. Plus it’s a good way for them to spend time together and meet new friends in their water aerobics classes. I, too, try to swim more in the winter for cardiovascular health and overall fitness.
Richard Weil, MEd, CDE from Medicine.Net.com wrote a fantastic post about swimming,starting with the history of swimming, moving on to the benefits of swimming, how to get started, what to wear, equipment you need, where to do it, and finishing with links to great swimming resources. Read the excerpt from his article below or click the link here to go to his original article.
What is the History of Swimming?
Human beings have been swimming for millennia. According to Wikipedia, Stone Age cave drawings depict individuals swimming and there are written references in the Bible and the Greek poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” dating back 1,500 to 2,000 years. There are even Egyptian clay seals from 4000 BC showing four swimmers doing a version of the crawl, and the most famous swimming drawings were apparently found in the Kebir desert and were estimated to also be from around 4000 BC.
According to the Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sports, literature specifically related to swimming grew in the middle ages. It is believed that the first book devoted to swimming was Colymbetes by Nicolas Wynman written in 1538, and a more widely recognized text, De Arte Nantandi, was published in Latin by Everard Digby in 1587. The encyclopedia also reports that swimming was required of knights and that Romans built bathhouses and pools wherever they conquered to serve as social clubs and places to exercise.
Organized swimming began in the 1800s and 1900s with the creation of swimming associations (for example, the Amateur Swimming Association in 1886) and clubs that competed against each other. There are reports from that era of swimming clubs in England, France, Germany, and the United States. High-profile events also contributed to swimming’s visibility. For instance, Matthew Webb swam the English Channel in 1875.
Competitive swimming continued to grow in popularity during the 1800s and was included in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. In 1904, the Olympics in St. Louis included the 50-, 100-, 220-, 440-, 880-yard and one-mile freestyle, the 100-yard backstroke and 440-yard breaststroke, and a 4×50-yard freestyle relay.
By the 20th century, swimming had become mainstream. Indoor pools were beginning to appear, most towns with populations over 20,000 had public outdoor pools, and swimming clubs became increasingly popular for recreation. Women participated for the first time in swimming in the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912, and Johnny Weissmuller (considered by many authorities to be the greatest swimmer of all time and who later went on to Tarzan fame in movies) became the first person to swim 100 meters in less than one minute.
Today swimming is the second most popular exercise activity in the United States, with approximately 360 million annual visits to recreational water venues. Swim clubs, recreation centers, Y’s, and many other facilities feature swimming pools. Many high schools and colleges have competitive swim teams, and of course, swimming is one of the most popular Olympic sports. Millions of Americans are swimming each year. Are you one of them? If not, the following information may help get you started.
What are the Swimming Strokes?
Breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, and crawl (freestyle) are the most popular swim strokes. The breaststroke and butterfly are more difficult to learn than the backstroke and crawl. Click here for a description of the various strokes.
What are the Benefits of Swimming?
There are plenty of reasons to swim! Here’s a list that should get you motivated.
There’s no ground impact when you swim, and so you protect the joints from stress and strain. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation strongly recommends swimming and water activities for this reason, so much so that they sponsor water classes all over the country (check http://www.arthritis.org for information). Water aerobics classes are also desirable for this reason, because even if you do jump and hit the bottom of the pool, you do so with less force because you’re buoyant in the water.
Can be continued for a lifetime
Because there’s no impact with swimming, it can be continued for a lifetime. If you check the United States Masters Swimming (http://www.usms.org/) Web site for age categories of their swim competitions, you will find a 100- to 104-year-old age group! And the master of fitness, Jack La Lanne, still swims one hour every day at age 93!
Builds cardiorespiratory fitness
Swimming improves endurance. In one study of sedentary middle-aged men and women who did swim training for 12 weeks, maximal oxygen consumption improved 10% and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped with each beat which indicates heart strength) improved as much as 18%.
Builds muscle mass
In a study of men who completed an eight-week swimming program, there was a 23.8% increase in the triceps muscle (the back of the arm). My take on muscle mass and swimming is that if you have been doing no resistance exercise at all and you start to swim, you will certainly get more toned and you may even gain mass like the men in this study.
An alternative when injured
When athletes are injured, particularly in the lower extremities, they are frequently told to swim to maintain their fitness level. Swimming helps them stay in shape, and it’s even part of the rehabilitation. That’s because the resistance of the water makes the muscles work hard without the strain or impact that is experienced on land.
It’s a family affair
Swimming and other water activities are something the entire family can share. With rising levels of obesity in children as well as adults in the United States, family physical activities and good role-modeling may be one way to stem the epidemic of inactivity and obesity facing our nation.
Swimming burns lots of calories, anywhere from 500-650 per hour depending on how efficiently you swim (you burn more flopping around than swimming cleanly!) and how buoyant you are (the more body fat you have, the more you float and the fewer calories it takes to swim). Very early and original research on swimming and calorie expenditure showed that swimming, regardless of the stroke, burned about 89% of the calories burned during running and 97% of the calories burned during cycling for the same time period. Calorie expenditure is dependent on the intensity of exercise, and so it’s entirely possible to burn more calories swimming than running in the same period of time as long as you swim hard enough, and particularly so if compared to running at light intensity.
How do I Get Started with Swimming?
Take a lesson if you don’t know how to swim! It’s never too late to learn. Your local recreation center, Y, fitness center, or senior center might have a pool, and if they do, chances are they offer swim lessons (plus, if it’s indoors, you can swim all year long!). You may have the choice of group or private lessons. Opt for a private lesson if you have a strong fear of the water and feel you need special attention, otherwise a group lesson will work just fine.
A qualified swim instructor will have some type of certification (for example, the American Red Cross-certified lifeguard and swim instructor) and will be willing to speak with you before you get started to explain how things work. Adults generally need one hour for beginning sessions, but that may vary based on your health and fitness level (children younger than 6 years of age need 15-30 minutes and 6- to 12 year-olds need 30-45 minutes). The instructor should use kickboards, float belts, or other flotation devices to assist you if necessary, and they should be sensitive to any fear of the water you might have. When you first start, you should expect to learn breathing and stroke techniques separately, and then the instructor will integrate your lessons as you get more comfortable and skilled. You might start in the shallow end where you can stand and work on breathing techniques, by the side of the pool and hold on while you kick, or perhaps hold on to a kickboard and kick across the pool to work on kicking strokes. Your instructor will know how quickly to progress.
Where are Resources for Swimming?
http://www.ymca.net/ (Click on aquatics to learn more about infant-parent classes, preschool classes, classes for people with disabilities, classes for teens, and competitive swimming for people 18 and over.)
http://www.arthritis.org/ (Check for water classes in your area.)
http://www.usaswimming.org/ (Click on the “swimmer” tab and then “disability.”)
http://www.junonia.com/home.htm (large-size swimsuits for women)
http://www.wholesomewear.com/slimmer-c.html (large-size swimsuits for women)
http://www.landsend.com/cd/frontdoor/0,,swim,00.html (large-size and custom swimsuits for women)
http://www.bigmen.com/ (large-size swimsuits for men)
http://www.big-tall.com/ (large-size swimsuits for men)
http://www.bigandtallguys.com (large-size swimsuits for men)
http://www.swimoutlet.com/ (swim gear)
http://aquajogger.com/default.htm (swim gear)
http://www.shapeupshop.com/aqua/hand_buoys.htm (water dumbbells)
http://www.power-systems.com/ (water dumbbells)
http://www.gymcor.com/pat201aqwatr.html (water treadmill)
http://www.activeforever.com/ (water treadmill)
http://www.endlesspools.com/index.html (water treadmill—propeller method)
Read entire article here.