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Fitness / Health and Nutrition / Sports Medicine

Masters Swimming IS the Magic Pill

The physical, mental, and social benefits of swimming

Laura Jones | December 7, 2012

Swimming might be the single best thing you can do to avoid the diseases that plague our sedentary society and to vastly improve the function of both your body and mind.

In 1968 Dr. Ransom Arthur published "Swimming and Cardiovascular Fitness in the Older Age Group." Arthur, one of the founders of U.S. Masters Swimming, was obsessed with the belief that all adults should swim for fun, fitness, and fellowship. Decades later, nearly 60,000 USMS members from age 18 to 100 follow his dream. And Arthur is not the only cheerleader for swimming. Scientists, researchers and physicians may not agree on everything, but they do agree on this: exercise is mandatory for good health. Some even go further and state that exercise is the best medicine in the world. One of the best forms of exercise is swimming.

Clearly Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin are each the picture of health. But, you ask, can swimming do that for me? Absolutely. Well, it probably won’t give you the smooth skin or rippled muscles of a teenager, but the health benefits of swimming—at any speed and any age—are enormous. If you spend enough time with swimmers, you will meet many whose appearance belies their age and whose energy and zest for life matches that of any Olympic athlete. Swimming is simply the best form of exercise available. Read on to understand all the ways swimming can improve your physical and mental health.

Swimming can be done at any intensity and is the “ultimate all-in-one fitness package,” Olympian and Masters swimmer Janet Evans has said. What’s in the package? USMS has compiled this list the many physical, mental and emotional benefits of swimming:

The Physical Benefits of Swimming

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol
  • Aids in weight loss and weight maintenance
  • Is easier on the joints than impact sports
  • Benefits your immune system
  • Preserves and improves functional capacity
  • Strengthens muscles thanks to the greater resistance of water
  • Makes your heart a better and more efficient pump
  • Improves flexibility
  • Slows down the aging process
  • Reduces your risk for heart disease and diabetes
  • Reduces chronic pain, particularly from arthritis
  • Improves muscle imbalances
  • Develops lung capacity and helps COPD and asthma
  • Exercises nearly every muscle in the body, especially if you swim all four strokes
  • Lowers cortisol
  • Improves sleep
  • Allows you to exercise when pregnant
  • Eliminates the risk of falling or being hit by a car

The Mental Benefits of Swimming

  • Enhances the connections between left and right hemispheres
  • Prevents brain shrinkage
  • Can help you make new brain cells
  • Improves problem solving skills and memory
  • Reduces stress
  • Allows you to be disconnected in an increasingly overconnected world
  • Reduces depression and anxiety
  • Improves self-control and willpower which can translate to the rest of life
  • Offers relaxation through the repetitive nature of movement
  • Improves self esteem
  • Improves mental toughness

The Emotional and Social Benefits of Swimming

  • All different levels can exercise in the same pool at the same time
  • There are toys such as kickboards and pull buoys and snorkels and fins to make a workout different and exciting and easier or harder as need be
  • It’s just plain fun!
  • You get used to seeing yourself in a swimsuit
  • You can do it when it is dark and cold outside
  • It’s uniting, not dividing—we all rest at the same wall
  • It’s adaptable, and you can do different workouts depending on how you feel
  • It’s a lifetime sport

There is a Masters workout group in or near every locality in America. Masters swimmers love to welcome new members.

Physician and past-president of USMS Jim Miller says it best: Swimming offers the “unique qualities of total body aerobic and anaerobic exercise that has no risk of falls, is low-impact … there you have a winner.”

For more, in each issue of SWIMMER, we offer articles on health issues of interest to swimmers and speak with the top experts in the country, many of whom are swimmers themselves. Our website is filled with stories of swimmers who have gone from fat to fit, from sick to well through swimming.

To see how real Masters swimmers have benefitted, enjoy these articles:

“Fun and Healthy at the Same Time”

“Sleep, Rest, Recovery and Relaxation”

“Scott Nichols: Beating the Odds”

“Why I Love Swimming”

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About the Author—Laura Jones

Laura S. Jones, a lawyer by training, has written about sports, health, and science for a variety of publications since 2001. She's also the author of a short story collection, "Breaking and Entering," published in 2011. Jones is an avid, although not speedy, open water swimmer and particularly enjoys 5K and 10K ocean swims with her much faster husband, Rob. She'll occasionally humble herself with a 400IM or 500 free in a pool meet, and a triathlon or two.

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