How Does Swimming Affect Your Body?
Individuals swim for a variety of reasons including recreation, competition, and health. Regardless of the reason, swimming can affect your body in a variety of ways — both good and bad.
A Low-Impact Sport
Swimming is a low-impact sport. Low-impact exercise can be good for the body because it offers the same health benefits as physically demanding, high-impact exercise without the stress and intensity placed on the body. Many individuals cannot take the impact that exercises or sports put on the body, so low-impact options offer low-weight bearing alternatives — such as swimming, dancing, yoga. High-impact activities offer great benefits, but they can also place additional stress and pressure on joints, muscles, and the body overall.
Physical Health Benefits
Swimming is associated with a variety of health benefits. Swimming utilizes all parts of the body, and an hour of swimming is comparable to an hour of running without the stress on your body. Since swimming is low-impact, almost all individuals can participate. Below are some of the health benefits of swimming:
- Improved flexibility: When you swim you reach, stretch, turn, and pull your body through the water. In doing so, your body can become increasingly flexible. Most swimmers also stretch pre- and post-swim for extra flexibility.
- Increased endurance: As you make swimming a routine, you should start to see your endurance improve.
- Stronger lungs: Swimming requires proper breathing techniques. By performing aerobic exercises, you are activating large muscle groups that require large amounts of oxygen to perform. By activating these large muscle groups, you can work to increase lung capacity and strength.
- Good for asthma: Holding your breath, expanding your lungs, and gaining control over your breathing can help reduce asthma symptoms. The humid environment of indoor pools may also help people with asthma.
- Helps maintain a healthy weight: Aerobic exercise helps keep the heart rate up and burns calories. This can help individuals maintain a healthy weight.
- Tones muscles and builds strength: Swimming utilizes all of the muscles in the body. You are constantly working to keep your body above water and moving forward. When you do this, you are burning calories, and working direct muscle groups to help improve definition and muscle strength.
Mental Health Benefits
According to Mindwise, swimming can boost your mental health because when you swim, your body releases endorphins to your brain that increase positivity, well-being, and happiness. When this happens, you are prone to improved moods, decreased levels of depression and anxiety, and decreased cognitive decline. When you work out, you may burn calories and improve muscle tone. When you see these positive results, your self-esteem can be boosted, and high-self esteem can bolster a variety of mental health benefits.
Potential Risks of Swimming
Just like most anything, there are potential risks that you expose yourself to when swimming. This is especially true for daily swimmers and competitive swimmers. The primary risks of swimming include water illness, hair loss, and headaches.
According to the CDC, Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) refer to the infections that are passed through germs that are present in the water you swim in. RWIs can also be caused by improper chemicals in water, or chemicals that evaporate from the water that taint air quality in aquatic facilities. They are spread by consumption of or contact with contaminated water in pools, hot tubs, water parks, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers, or oceans. RWI infections include:
- Diarrheal illness;
- Ear infections;
- Respiratory infections;
- Chemical irritation (eyes, lungs).
Tight Swim Caps and Goggles
Tight swim caps and tight goggles can cause a variety of issues for the head — specifically the temples, hair, and scalp. Tight swims caps and goggles have the following risks:
- General rubbing/discomfort: In order to work properly, swim caps and goggles need to be pulled tight. By doing this, you create a good amount of pressure on your skull, temples, and eyes;
- “Swimmer’s headache,” or supraorbital neuralgia: In a case studied by John C. O’Brien (MD), a young swimmer felt painful hair and tenderness surrounding his supraorbital nerve that turned out to be supraorbital neuralgia;
- Hair loss/thinning: When you force your hair into an unnatural position — such as putting your hair up, tucking your hair into a hat, or wearing a swim cap — you increase your chances of hair loss, thinning, and traction alopecia.
Swimming without caps and goggles can seem impossible — especially for those with long or sensitive hair, or competitive swimmers. There are several ways to mitigate or reduce the issues:
- Change your hairstyle;
- Avoid chemically processing hair;
- Pull hair up, or braid hair, loosely;
- Keep heat settings on low for hairdryers, straighteners, curlers, etc.;
- Hair growth products and hair thickening products.
Competitive swimming is a popular sport, but more and more medical staff are needing to provide medical care for swimmers. Additional to the risks of swimming that are listed above, competitive swimmers are at risk for:
- Musculoskeletal overuse injuries;
- Respiratory issues;
- Dermatologic conditions.