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Fitness Basics: Swimming Is for Everyone

No pain, plenty of gain from water workouts
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Exclusive Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Angela Lane has great memories of swimming during her childhood, spending endless summer days at the pool to find refuge from the Arkansas heat. She became a lifeguard as a teen, and she swam for fitness during high school and college.

Two years ago, things were different. At age 31, Lane weighed 200 pounds. She hadn't been in a pool for more than 10 years.

She began a weight loss program, and started to think about exercising again.

"People would tell me, 'You need to run or walk,' but when I tried that, my ankles and knees hurt," she says. "When I finally realized I needed to exercise, I said, 'OK, what do I like?' because if you like it, you're going to do it more."

She took to the pool. Her first goal was completing just one lap.

"Each week, I would get stronger and stronger," says Lane. "Swimming really began to strengthen, condition, and tone my body without those harsh, jarring effects of some of those other exercise programs."

Lane, a makeup artist in Little Rock, Ark., didn't realize how much swimming was helping her until she took a business trip: "I was running through the airport with my carry-on bag and I started to think, 'Wow, this is easier.'"

Easy on the Body

Exercise physiologist Robert A. Robergs says swimming is a good fitness choice for just about everyone, especially those who have physical limitations or who find other forms of exercise painful.

"It is a good, whole-body exercise that has low impact for people with arthritis, musculoskeletal, or weight limitations," says Robergs, director of the exercise physiology laboratories at The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Water's buoyancy accommodates the unfit as well as the fit. Water cushions stiff joints or fragile bones that might be injured by the impact of land exercises. When immersed to the waist, your body bears just 50% of its weight; immersed to the chest, it's 25%-35%; and to the neck, 10%.

Athletes use water to rehabilitate after injury or to cross-train. People with arthritis or other disabilities use water to improve fitness and range of motion and to relieve pain and stiffness.

"Swimming is also desirable for people with exercise-induced asthma," says Robergs, "as the warm, humid air [around the pool] causes less irritation to the airways."

Fitness Benefits

Not only is swimming easy on the body, it's a great way to get fit, according to Tay Stratton, head swim coach at the Little Rock Athletic Club.

Swimming recruits all the major muscle groups, including the shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips, and glutes, she says. And because water affords 12 times the resistance as air in every direction, it really helps to build strength, she says.

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