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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.

"It's cardiovascular and strengthening at the same time, and not many workouts have that," says Stratton.

But can swimming help you lose weight?

There are some questions about how efficiently swimming burns calories, says Robergs.

"Research done on swimming showed that weight loss seemed more difficult," he says. "The theory is that the water submersion initiates a complex [nerve pathway] to lower metabolic rate." And with a lower metabolic rate, the body uses fewer calories to maintain normal function.

While Robergs says these explanations need further research, Stratton says swimming can be a boon for weight loss -- if you follow the same principles as with any other exercise, and challenge yourself.

For weight loss, Stratton recommends interval training, in which you push yourself hard for short spurts, and then drop back to a less-intense level of exercise.

"If you don't do interval training, it's just as if you're doing a slow walk," Stratton says.

Sue Nelson, aquatic program specialist for USA Swimming in Colorado Springs, Colo., has many success stories of obese clients who lost weight after they began working out in the water.

One man was 500 pounds, had rheumatoid arthritis, and had to quit work because he couldn't get around.

"He went from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches to a cane to nothing by working out in the water," says Nelson. "He became one of my employees and lost over 250 pounds."

How to Get Started

If you're ready to get started, experts recommend getting a swim coach or joining a masters swimming group in your area. Don't be intimidated by the name; 'masters' just means over age 20.

Masters swimming accommodates all levels, from beginners to advanced, and you don't have to want to compete to join. This type of group supports recreational swimming for fitness, and is a great way to learn technique -- which is everything in swimming.

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