Article image

by Elaine K Howley

January 6, 2021

Part cardio, part strength training, swimming can build excellent musculoskeletal strength for longevity

Swimming is a great full-body workout, but what does that mean?

Well, it means that it’s one of just a few types of exercises that engages a vast range of muscle groups in your body, and it’s a great way to strengthen muscles you might not even know you have.

But swimming’s benefits go beyond muscles.

Swimming develops, strengthens, and stabilizes muscles, joints, and connective tissue throughout your body while also building cardiovascular health. In addition, swimming can improve the health of all of your tissues that make up the musculoskeletal system in the following key ways.

Improves Poor Posture

The National Institutes of Health’s website reports “years of slouching wears away at your spine to make it more fragile and prone to injury. Holding your body and moving in unhealthy ways often leads to neck, shoulder, and back pain. In any three-month period, about one in four adults in the U.S. has at least one day of back pain.”

But swimming can help counter this tendency by strengthening your core and allowing you to sit and stand up straight, in a position that helps supports your entire body appropriately. For some, this strengthening of abdominal muscles translates into improved posture and less back pain.

Improves Proprioception

Proprioception could be described as your sixth sense. It’s the awareness you have of your body and how it’s moving within its environment. You need a good sense of proprioception to be able to do a number of common tasks, such as walk, or more complex motions, such as closing your eyes and touching your nose.

Also called kinesthesia, proprioception is an important but often overlooked element of being human and being able to care for yourself. Some medical conditions that impact the muscles, nerves, and the brain, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and strokes, can decrease proprioceptive ability. So can traumatic injuries, joint replacement surgeries, and chemicals, such as alcohol and some drugs.

Proprioceptive ability can also decrease naturally as you age. This is part of what makes balance and coordination more difficult for older adults. It may also be part of why some older adults tend to walk with stooped posture or have difficulty climbing stairs. Being less active can speed this decline.

But swimming regularly can help your body reinforce its innate sense of itself in space and help delay or offset declines in proprioceptive ability. Being able to walk, climb stairs, brush your hair, and all the hundreds of other tasks—large and small—that you need to do each day to care for yourself and your family are in part reliant on proprioceptive ability.

Low-impact Resistance Training

Unlike running and other high-impact forms of exercise, swimming is gentle on your joints. There’s no pounding on your feet, knees, hips, lower back, and spine, and the water provides gentle resistance that can help build strength and muscle tone without the jarring impact that weight-bearing, land-based exercises can have.

This reduction in wear and tear on joints while strengthening the muscles that stabilize them means that swimming is a sport you can engage in for life, even if you develop mobility issues as you age. Plus, submersion in warm water can be especially soothing to stiff joints and can help restore range of motion to joints and ligaments after an injury or surgery.

In fact, swimming and water-based physical therapy is often recommended for people who’ve recently had surgery or had a traumatic injury. Such is the gentle power of water that it can help you rebuild strength and stamina without adding additional injury.

Swimming really is the perfect exercise, given how intense a workout it can offer while not putting too much strain on any one system. When all parts are working together, you’re bound to build better health.


  • Health and Nutrition