I recently read a quote about Esther Williams, an American competitive swimmer in the 1940’s describing a particular incident in the pool. She said, “Somehow, I kept my head above water. I relied on the discipline, character and strength that I had developed as that little girl in her first swimming pool.”
The more involved I get in the swimming sphere, the more I find how much it relates to running. Runners love to coexist, group together and pace and train with one another. But there is something otherworldly about running, the methodical pounding of feet on the pavement, the focus on breathing, the need to relax the neck and the shoulders, elbows and wrists. I find running to be therapeutic, orderly, and peaceful- and elixir on a stressful day where I can become one with the pavement. What I am quickly realizing, however, is that swimming is very much the same. The systemic movements of the arms, rythmetic breathing, and keeping the tempo of each leg as it kicks. There is something soothing about the waves in the pool and the cadence of your body as you reach and pull and glide through the water.
Unfortunately, swimming tends to not get the credit it deserves as an intense, competitive, and therapeutic form of exercise. In addition to the cardiovascular, and low impact advantages, swimming provides benefits that many people may not even be aware of; improved flexibility, reduced cholesterol, and improved brain function. Let’s take a look at the top 5 benefits of swimming:
- Swimming Expands Cerebral Communications – Similar to walking, swimming is a bilateral movement as such the cross patterning movements facilitates communication, feedback and modulation from one side of the brain to the other. This then activates both hemispheres and all four lobes of the brain simultaneously which results in heightened cognition and increased ease of learning. This would allow one to think more clearly in an extreme and even life threatening circumstance.
- Improved Asthma Symptoms – Unlike exercising in the often dry air of the gym, or contending with seasonal allergies or frigid winter air, swimming provides the chance to work out in moist air, which can help reduce exercise-induced asthma symptoms. Not only can exercising in the pool help avoid asthma attacks if you’re prone to them, some studies have shown that swimming can actually improve the condition overall. According to a study published in the journal, Respirology, when a group of kids completed a six-week swimming program, they saw improvements in symptom severity, snoring, mouth-breathing, and hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Moreover, the health benefits were still apparent a year after the swimming program had ended. Even those without asthma could benefit from swimming, say the study’s authors, as the exercise can increase lung volume and teach proper breathing techniques.
- Improved Flexibility – Unlike exercise machines in a gym that tend to isolate one body part at a time (like a bicep curl machine, for example), swimming puts the body through a broad range of motion that helps joints and ligaments stay loose and flexible. The arms move in wide arcs, the hips are engaged as the legs scissor through the water, and the head and spine twist from side to side. Plus, with every stroke, as you reach forward, you’re lengthening the body, which not only makes it more efficient in the water; it also helps give you a good stretch from head to toe.
- Built in Resistance – Swimming recruits all the major muscle groups, including the shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips, and glutes. And because water affords 12 times the resistance as air in every direction, it creates the additional element of strength training. Furthermore, swimming is simultaneously a cardiovascular and strengthening activity, a benefit not many workouts can provide.
- Reduced risk of drowning – And for the obvious – Swimming contributes to a major element of safety. Oklahoma has the largest shoreline in the Union and contains 1,401 square miles of water in lakes, rivers and ponds. That is bigger than the state of Rhode Island! That being said, the risk of drowning among individuals greatly increases. I, believe however, that death/injury, as a result of drowning/near drowning is preventable. Studies how that participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88%!
So, while running may be your “ go to” form of therapy, I urge you to consider swimming. As all great exercises do, swimming develops “discipline, character and strength,” and compliments walking, running, resistance training, and other forms of cardio exercises.