Looking for a low-impact, stress-free, strength-building exercise regime? Get into the pool (or lake, or ocean) for a regular swimming or Aquafit session. Regular swimmers are biologically 20 years younger than their driver’s licenses say they are, according to research from Indiana University. Swimming affects blood pressure, cholesterol levels, cardiovascular performance, central nervous system health, cognitive functioning, muscle mass, and blood chemistry to be much more similar to that of your younger self. Plus, since so much of swimming is about staying balanced and level in the water, swimming helps develop the deep stabilizing muscles in the core and lower back that other exercise regimes may neglect.
Part of a water exercise program’s effectiveness is due to the fact that muscles face constant resistance when moving through water (which is about 800 times denser than air). Because the resistance is gentle and involves the whole body, a regular water exercise program is both less stressful and more effective than circuit ‘resistance training’ in a gym. Water’s buoyancy provides gentle support during Aquafit, reducing stress on joints, back and other support muscles.
Getting enough oxygen into the bloodstream becomes more challenging with age, as heart and lung ailments and reduced mobility take a toll. Swimming builds lung capacity and helps the body to use oxygen more efficiently. A study in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that swimmers had better tidal volume (the amount of air that moves in and out of the lungs during relaxed breathing) resulting in lower resting heart rates and lower blood pressure.
Blood flow to the brain increased by up to 14 percent when men submerged themselves in water up to their hearts, according to a Journal of Physiology study. Researchers believe water’s pressure on the chest cavity may have something to do with it, and they are now studying whether water-based workouts improve blood flow to the brain better than do land-based ones.
With our proximity to lakes and ocean, many wonder if there is greater benefit in swimming in fresh or salt water rather than in a standard pool. The answer is yes – and no. The exercise benefits are about equal, although swimming in the ocean provides challenges due to current and tidal resistance. But there are other benefits to outdoor swimming beyond the exercise itself.
On the Sunshine Coast, outdoor air quality is superior – the ocean or mountain breezes and stands of great, shaggy evergreens provide an oxygen-rich environment. Breathing this fresh air while exercising and swimming will of course be more healthful than inhaling the air of an indoor pool.
Hippocrates mentioned “thalassotherapy” to describe the healing effects of seawater itself. Some health practitioners believe swimming in seawater can help increase the immune system function, improve circulation, promote overall well-being and hydrate the skin – particularly beneficial for burns and skin distress arising from radiation therapy. Certainly, bathing the skin in saline is recommended for treatment of burns and irritation, particularly after radiation therapy.
Swimming in seawater purportedly activates the body’s healing mechanisms to fight conditions such as asthma, arthritis, bronchitis and inflammatory diseases, as well as common aches and pains. Magnesium-rich seawater can also relax the muscles, reduce stress and help induce sleep, since magnesium is reported to relieve nervous irritability for an increased sense of calmness.
As we enjoy summertime on the Sunshine Coast, it’s a great time to dive in to a program of water-based exercise. For information on pool times and Aquafit classes, visit scrd.ca/recreation.