4 great reasons to go swimming

Reap the body and mind benefits of this low-impact and refreshing workout. 

Mature African-American woman in a swimming pool.

When it comes to exercise for older adults, there’s often a love-hate relationship with gravity. While it can help you get the full benefits of squats, lunges or push-ups, that pull can also make already-cranky joints feel even worse. 

The simple solution in the latter case? Remove the gravity. 

That’s where swimming comes in. Pool workouts are an obvious choice for people with joint or back pain, because in water your joints won’t bear the full weight of your body. But they’re equally effective for anyone looking for different ways to challenge their muscles and improve their overall health.

Check out all the awesome reasons you should consider moving your workout to the pool — plus, a few ways to take the plunge safely during the pandemic.

Reason #1: Your Achy Joints Will Thank You

When you slide into a pool, the water envelops your limbs with protective pressure — and it’s distributed evenly, so your ankles, knees or spine won’t be bearing the brunt of gravity’s pull. 

That’s why swimming is so often recommended as a way to treat arthritis or chronic pain. Choosing water over land not only helps keep your affected joints mobile without making your symptoms worse, it also relieves joint pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Bonus: The warm water of heated pools (83 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit) may reduce inflammation and stiffness, notes the Arthritis Foundation.

Reason #2: You’ll Help Strengthen Your Heart

Another plus for pools: Without gravity weighing you down, your heart can work more efficiently. 

Research from the Cardiovascular Aging Research Lab at the University of Texas found that swimming can help relieve stiffness in the arteries, which can lead to high blood pressure. When your arteries are more elastic, that in turn helps to lower the risk of heart attack. Swimming also counts as a vigorous aerobic workout, helping build endurance in your heart and lung function. 

And it’s not just your cardiovascular system that benefits. Swimming helps improve your mental and overall physical fitness and may also add years to your life, according to a 2017 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study showed that swimmers were found to have a lower risk of death due to heart disease and stroke. 

Reason #3: Your Spirits Will Get a Lift 

For many, the repetitive and rhythmic nature of swimming strokes and breathing produce a relaxing, meditative effect — helping to reduce stress and anxiety.

But there’s more to it than just going through the motions. Swimming, like other forms of exercise, releases several feel-good chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin, in the brain that help to elevate our mood. 

Equally important, exercise also lowers levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, notes the American Psychological Association (APA). That’s why swimming can be an effective way to help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

A healthy lady on a walk
Schedule a free in-home checkup with HouseCalls

No travel. No crowded waiting rooms. UnitedHealthcare® HouseCalls comes to you for 1-on-1 personalized care. This is the attention you’ve been waiting for.

To learn more and confirm if you are eligible, call 1-800-934-0280, TTY 711, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. ET, 5 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. PT. or click here.

Reason #4: Your Risk of Injury May Go Down

According to the CDC, each year more than one in four adults age 65 and older experiences a fall, and 2.8 million of those adults will land in the emergency room due to fall-related injuries. 

The good news: Swimming may lower your risk of taking a tumble. Swimming strengthens your core — those muscles around your abdomen, shoulders, back and hips that work in concert to keep you balanced and coordinated back on land. 

In a 2014 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, men who swam were one-third less likely to fall than other men — including those who did other forms of exercise, such as golfing, stationary biking and lawn bowling.

COVID-19: What to Know Before You Dive In

As beneficial as swimming can be for your overall health, keep in mind that pools, lakes and beaches are popular summer spots for people of all ages — which can make them particularly vulnerable places for infection during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Your first step: Identify where you want to swim, find out who owns it (either a city or county government or a business, such as a gym), and contact them to see if it’s open and what their current policies are surrounding the pandemic, if any. 

Of course, even if the pool or lake you’re eyeing is open, it’s important to take a few safety precautions, according to recent CDC guidelines: 

  • Before you get in the water, wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. 
  • Stay six feet away from people who don’t live with you, both in and out of the water. 
  • Avoid sharing pool items (like floaties and noodles). 
  • Wear a cloth face covering when you’re out of the pool. Don’t wear a covering in water; wet masks aren’t effective and make it harder to breathe.
  • Most importantly: If you’re feeling unwell or were exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days, stay home. 

When you call the pool, ask if they have hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol on hand, as well as paper towels, tissues and no-touch trash cans. 

Another important thing to ask the staff: the pool’s pH levels. When the pH and disinfectant levels are correct, most germs in pools and hot tubs will die within an hour. The CDC recommends that these levels be checked at least twice per day.

Beyond the coronavirus, though, there are still a handful of other sanitary and health precautions to keep in mind before swimming. Be sure to shower before and after swimming, avoid swallowing pool water (keep your mouth closed when possible), don’t hop in the water if you have diarrhea or an open cut and wear ear plugs or a swim cap to prevent the water from coming in your ears. 

Try This 20-Minute Swim Workout 

New to swimming? Don’t feel the need to dive in headfirst (figuratively or literally). You can use a kickboard to start and simply move across the pool for as many laps as is comfortable for 20 minutes at a time. 

If this isn’t your first dip in the pool, try a medley workout. A medley utilizes all four racing strokes — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. The movement variety will ensure that you are using all of your body, not just dominating muscles. 

The following medley routine should take 20 minutes or less. To make it easier, cut each length in half or more. Remember to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine. This is especially important if you have a chronic condition or are coming back from an injury or surgery.

Swim two lengths of the pool using any stroke, or using a kickboard.

Swim two to four laps freestyle
Rest for 15 to 45 seconds

Swim two to four laps breaststroke
Rest for 15 to 45 seconds

Swim two to four laps backstroke
Rest for 15 to 45 seconds

Swim two to four laps butterfly
Rest for 15 to 45 seconds

Swim two laps using any stroke, or using a kickboard.