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4 Lasting Health Benefits of Swimming

Swimming can burn fat, build muscle, and improve overall health.


Photo: Shutterstock

With the recent release of the live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, many are flocking to the big screen to catch their favorite Disney princess, Ariel, played by Halle Bailey. 

However, it is not just the theaters that are likely to see an influx of new visitors this summer.   

Isaac Robertson, co-founder and chief editor of online fitness resource Total Shape, believes the new Disney movie will inspire young people to get into swimming. 

“Since many children aspire to be just like their favorite Disney princess, hopefully this movie will encourage a new generation of people to take up swimming, which is a great all-around activity for your physical and cardiovascular health,” he says.

“In fact, Halle Bailey reported being in the best shape of her life during the filming of the movie, in which she undertook mermaid training both in the water and up on harnesses, in order to achieve the fitness and core strength required to play Ariel.” 

Robertson outlined some of the important health benefits of swimming, as well as which strokes burn the most calories for those looking to lose weight this summer. 

What are the health benefits of swimming? 

It is Low Impact 

Swimming is the perfect workout for those with injuries or sore joints, as it gets the heart rate up slowly and puts less pressure on joints. It is an accessible workout for all age groups, especially the elderly, who may otherwise struggle with high-impact exercises. 

Build Muscle and Strength  

When swimming, you utilize your stomach, arms, legs, and torso, and engage your most significant muscle groups. Swimming can tone your muscles due to the added resistance created by pushing through the water. Swimming develops lower, core, and upper muscles simultaneously, providing you with full-body exercise that offers more overall muscular definition than other forms of cardio such as jogging. 

Cardiovascular Benefits 

Swimming can prevent heart disease and improve overall cardiovascular health. Studies have shown swimming for 30 minutes three times a week can considerably lower blood pressure levels, reduce low-density cholesterol and raise high-density cholesterol levels, improving health. 

Reduces Body Fat 

Regular swimming will increase overall calorie expenditure, which will burn fat, provided calorie intake remains the same. The water provides resistance to your body during swimming, allowing a greater potential for calories burned compared to other workouts. Swimming will also build muscle, which also speeds up the metabolism and promotes further weight loss. 

According to one study by The National Center for Biotechnology, middle-aged women who swam for an hour three times a week lost a considerable amount of body fat within only 12 weeks. They also increased their endurance, agility, and even reduced their low-density cholesterol levels. 

Which swimming strokes burn the most calories? 

Here are the four most common types of swimming strokes, ordered by the number of calories burned after a 30-minute session, along with the physical benefits for each: 

Butterfly: approximately 450 calories 

This stroke is for more advanced swimmers, and it is the biggest calorie burner of the four main strokes. It is effective for improving upper body strength, posture and flexibility, and toning the chest, arms, and stomach. The butterfly stroke is accomplished by keeping your face down in the water and moving your arms symmetrically forwards over your head, while keeping your feet together and performing a dolphin kick. 

Front crawl: approximately 405 calories 

Front crawl offers high calorie burn as well. This stroke is best for toning back muscles but is also great for the glutes and shoulders. When swimming front crawl, your face is in the water, legs kicking continuously, and your arms alternate reaching out in front of your head. 

Breaststroke: approximately 370 calories 

Breaststroke is the third best stroke for burning calories, but actually offers the best cardiovascular workout, aiding in strengthening the heart and lungs. The stroke involves moving the arms in semicircular movements while performing a frog kick. It is considered the simplest stroke to learn and often appeals to those who prefer to keep their head above water. 

Backstroke: approximately 250 calories 

Backstroke burns the fewest calories, however, it does help to lengthen the spine and improve posture. Backstroke tones the stomach, shoulders, glutes, and arms. As the name suggests, backstroke is performed on your back, with the head looking towards the ceiling. Your hips should be high up in the water, with legs continuously kicking and arms alternating in a circular motion behind you. 

When and what should I eat before swimming? 

Fuelling the body with the right food an hour before a pool session is essential. Eating the wrong food, or nothing at all, could result in a drop in stamina, as well as indigestion, cramps, and nausea. 

It is crucial to maintain energy stores by eating healthy carbohydrates that can be swiftly digested. The perfect pre-swim snacks are fresh fruit, yogurt, porridge, toast, a smoothie or sports drink, a cereal bar, or a banana. As you begin swimming regularly, your appetite may increase, and you may experience hunger pangs.Hunger pangs are a common effect of swimming, as exposure to cold water is known to trigger hunger reflexes. If your fitness goal is to lose weight, it is worth paying attention to your calorie intake to ensure you don’t consume significantly more than you have just burned. 

About The Author

Sophia is an intern for Well Defined. She is passionate about journalism and has focused on writing stories covering adoption, sports, and other topics as a staff writer and copy editor for her high school yearbook staff. She has achieved several high school journalism awards for her writing and has aspirations for a successful professional writing career.