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Why You Should Do It
Swimming engages most major muscle groups and many generally unworked ones, plus it’s the perfect balance of cardio and strength training (water resistance!). While activities like biking or running mostly engage your lower body, swimming places more demands on your upper body and core, including your mid-back region and triceps—all without the constraints of gravity, says Hirofumi Tanaka, PhD, director of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. “Since it’s non-weight-bearing, swimming is a great form of exercise if you have limitations like joint pain, arthritis or obesity.” This also means you’re more likely to recover quickly from training sessions—even high-intensity ones
How to Make It Happen
As with any other exercise regimen, the trick of building swimming into your day depends on your preference and schedule. If you’re picking up the sport again, you may want to start on the weekends, when it can be easier to find time. Then, as you get acclimated, plan to fit it into your weekdays. Tanaka suggests following his lead and diving in first thing in the morning. Others swim with friends to stay accountable. Ben Skutnik, adjunct faculty member at Indiana University Bloomington, says going after work has particular benefits. “Use the silence of being face down in the water to clear your mind. Some of my best thinking occurs in the pool, where no one can talk to me!” Just don’t go home first or you’ll lose momentum.
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Another way to set yourself up for success is to keep swim gear at the office or in your car so you’ll always be ready. Also be sure to check your pool’s schedule—your best intentions may be thwarted if you show up during Kiddie Splash Hour or a water aerobics class.
What You'll Need
A body of water! If a lake, pond or ocean isn’t an option (or appealing), check out local pools. (The more controlled environment of a pool with a lifeguard is the best place for not-so-experienced swimmers.) Most cities and towns have a YMCA or community pool, so look for a membership or pass that suits your needs. Try a Google search of “pools near me.”
Swimming is a skill-based activity, which means it can take some time before you notice an increase in heart rate, but don’t let that be a deterrent. Tanaka suggests starting with a kickboard to build up stamina, then graduating to lap swimming. The easiest strokes for laps are freestyle, breaststroke, sidestroke and backstroke. All offer a good aerobic workout that works your core, but if you’re looking for a total-body blast, dive in with the butterfly since it engages the most muscle groups. As with any other exercise, warming up is always a good idea. You can do this in the pool, either with a kickboard or a slow swim.
Distance and speed are not important when you start out. Instead, focus on the amount of time you swim. Healthy people should get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days a week. But you can start out with less. And swimming is great because it doesn’t require a lot of equipment—a bathing suit, a pair of goggles and you’re good to go!