An image of a young Asian female practicing for the swim team at the YMCA's pool. She is wearing goggles and is captured in the middle of a butterfly stroke. Her hair is pulled into a bun, and her nose and mouth and down in the water.

Swimming is one of the most popular recreational activities in the United States. Compared to other activities, swimming is highly accessible. You can get started with very minimal costs involved, and you're never too far from a pool, lake or ocean. It's also an easy way to challenge yourself and have fun, regardless of your age or physical abilities.

Its overwhelming popularity could also be because it's so good for you. Swimming — whether competitively or merely for fun — has numerous physical, mental and social benefits.

Why Swimming Is Good for You

Some people swim for fun. Others do it to unwind and destress after a long week. For some, swimming is the ultimate competitive sport. No matter your preferences, you can experience the benefits swimming has to offer.

Physical Benefits

The most apparent benefits of swimming are the physical ones. You might be surprised how quickly you notice small changes, like better-quality sleep and improved performance in the water. Here are a few ways swimming can improve your physical well-being

  • Cardiovascular: Swimming works out your cardiovascular system, helping strengthen your heart and increasing your heart rate at your pace. We all know that aerobic exercise – also referred to as “cardio” – results in oxygenated blood pumping to the heart and delivering oxygen to your muscles. Workouts in the pool achieve just that and boost your heart health over time! According to a study published by the American Journal of Cardiology, swimming reduced blood pressure in adults 50 years of age and older who were previously sedentary. 
  • Respiratory: Cardio exercise and holding your breath underwater may help improve your lung capacity, especially for those who struggle with asthmatic symptoms.
  • Body fat: Staying active helps you burn calories, which aids in meeting some people's health and fitness goals. Between the water’s resistance and the kicking and pulling your body does, calories will be burned in the pool. Different swimming strokes also burn different amounts of calories. On average, a 154-pound person who swims slow freestyle laps burns around 255 calories in HALF AN HOUR! In a study by the journal Metabolism, swimming even beat walking for long-term weight loss and produced improvements in body fat distribution.
  • Improved sleep: Any intense workout will tire your muscles, letting you get a good night's sleep.
  • Strength and enduranceDid you know that swimming can work up to 48 muscles at once? The water provides a full-body workout that helps you burn fat, tone muscles and increase your overall strength! No matter which stroke you choose to swim, all of your body’s muscles will be targeted. You will also improve your flexibility. 
  • Prolong life: Exercising in the water is easy on your joints and bones. The support your body receives from the water lasts through adulthood. According to the CDC, those who swim cut their risk of death in half compared to non-swimmers. Additionally, learning how to swim minimizes your chance of drowning in water-based accidents — a benefit that is especially crucial for children

Even better, you can apply all these physical benefits to other areas of your life. For example, your better-quality sleep might help you stay more focused and energized throughout your workday. Stronger muscles and improved endurance will give you the skills to participate in more activities with your friends and family. You can even use swimming as a way to train yourself for other cardio-intensive sports, like running and intramurals.

Mental Benefits

Beyond the physical, swimming has numerous positive side effects that will better your mind while in the water and in your everyday life. Keep your mind sharp with these brainy benefits.

  • Boost your mood: Even when you go solo, swimming is a lot of fun! Plus, exercise helps your body produce endorphins, which makes you feel happier and more positive.
  • Manage your stress: Swimming can help you manage your stress by giving you something to focus all your energy and attention on. Break your swim sessions into small, achievable goals and feel the rush of positive emotions that come from overcoming each one. The water is also a soothing environment to unwind and work out the tension you carry in your body throughout the day.
  • Gain self-confidence: Exercise can boost your self-confidence, leading to higher self-esteem. As you accomplish new goals or overcome mental obstacles, you will start to feel better about yourself and have better control of your emotions.
  • Find peace and creativity: Swimming as an aerobic exercise may help relax those who suffer from frequent nerves or anxiety symptoms — especially low- to moderate-intensity sessions. In some cases, swimming can also supplement depression treatment. It may improve short-term moods and reduce the likelihood of depressive relapses in those with a clinical diagnosis. Some swimmers also report an increased feeling of creative energy — so a dip in the pool could be all the inspiration you need to tackle a new project.
  • Improve brain function: Swimming might make you smarter, thanks to its brain-boosting side effects. It can help strengthen your memory and build intelligence by promoting brain cell production. Over time, this may also help fight against cognitive decline by improving your brain's hippocampus region. 
  • Stay energized: Despite being a challenging workout for your muscles and joints, swimming exercises can be very invigorating. After your swim session, don't be surprised if you feel a burst of energy to get you through your to-do list.

Social Benefits

Adopting swimming as your new hobby or participating in a swim class is a great way to meet people, despite your busy schedule. For children, group settings can aid in developing social skills at an early age. Here are a few more reasons swimming can improve your social life.

  • It's inclusive: Swimming is one of the most inclusive recreational activities available because it's low-impact and offers a gentle, stress-free form of resistance training. You can participate in some level of swimming, even if you have a disability or injury. Swimming is even suitable for older adults and some multiple sclerosis patients. 
  • You'll meet new people: When you meet new people at the pool or local YMCA, you know you have at least one thing in common — an interest in swimming. This common ground can be a foundation for long-lasting friendships.
  • It's a great bonding activity: Swimming spans all ages and many physical abilities, making it a great way to bond with your friends and family. Assemble your "team" and make regular trips to the pool part of your routine.

Swimming for Improved Well-Being: What You Need to Know

Now that you know why swimming is excellent for you, here are some things to consider before diving in.

Does Technique Matter?

Yes and no. Some techniques, like proper water posture and how to hold your breath, are vital parts of swimming, no matter who you are or why you're there. They help prevent injury and keep you from overworking your body while staying afloat. Stretching, warming up and cooling down are also essential before and after each swim session to minimize your risk of injury. It's unnecessary to learn advanced swim techniques and strokes if your only objective is to have fun or relax, though they are an excellent way to challenge yourself and meet fitness goals. 

If you're swimming for sport or taking classes, learning the right techniques is crucial. A trainer can help you acquire these new skills and build on existing ones.

Do Swimming Benefits Differ Between Men and Women?

Swimming offers most people the same advantages, regardless of sex or age. Pregnant people may especially enjoy swimming, as it's one of the few sports and exercises that is safe and gentle enough to participate in. Swimming is great for kids, too — it allows them to stay active and in shape while improving sleep and releasing pent-up energy. The earlier you enroll your child in swim lessons, the more likely they are to learn lifesaving skills to avoid drowning.

Dive Into Swimming at Gateway Region YMCA

Are you ready to reap all the rewards swimming has to offer? Here's how to get started.

  • Find a facility: Find and tour a facility near you to see if it's the right fit for your swim objectives. Take time to meet the staff and get a feel for the classes and programs they offer.
  • Try new things: Research all available programs and choose one that sounds interesting, challenging or both. Don't be afraid to try new things and participate in classes that may be out of your comfort zone. 
  • Consider taking lessons: If you're serious about honing your new swimming skills or want to be as prepared as possible, consider taking professional swim lessons. Your instructor will teach you the basics of water safety, including proper form and breathing techniques.
  • Invest in gear and equipment: If you're swimming for sport or fitness, you might want to invest in swim gear to enhance your experience, like goggles, handle paddles or swim fins.

Learn more about swimming at the Y and find a Gateway Region YMCA near you to get started!