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I love running, but eventually my balky knees (which I injured back in college) made it increasingly difficult for me to get through long jogs on a regular basis. I needed to find an alternative form of exercise -- one that would provide me with a fairly vigorous workout while also inflicting less punishment on my body.
That's when I discovered swimming.
Both my parents have routinely swum laps for as long as I can remember, but I had never really gotten into it. Now that I've started to make a habit of it, I'm perplexed it took me so long. I find swimming to be a fantastic workout that addresses every part of the body and leaves me feeling energetic rather than beat up.
Granted, there are a few obstacles for someone who's looking to get into swimming for the first time. You need to learn the technique (classes are a good way to do this, though I taught myself), and you'll of course need access to a pool.
If you can get these necessities lined up, here are 10 reasons why you should strap on goggles and cap, and get to swimming laps:
1) It's easier on your joints
Swimming is the lowest of low-impact exercises. You don't have to deal with the effects of gravity while in the water, and your knees won't take the punishment of pounding against pavement or a treadmill. Those who deal with physical limitations, such as arthritis, osteoporosis or obesity, will find the pool much more accommodating to their bodies.
2) It's a full-body workout
In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, you'll work out all major muscle groups with a good swim: arms, legs, abs, back, shoulder, hips, etc. In essence, swimming can cover both the cardio and resistance training aspects of your exercise. With powerful strokes and fervent kicking, you can build lean muscle, jump-starting your metabolism so that you keep burning calories after you exit the pool.
3) It's peaceful
Many people enjoy listening to music when they exercise. There are ways to do that while swimming (waterproof headphones and MP3 players are available) but there's something to be said for a quiet, relaxing swim, where the only sounds are the rhythmic splashing of water as your head submerges and emerges from the surface.
4) Injuries are relatively rare
Runners and weight lifters get hurt, and often. For swimmers, the occurrence of injuries is vastly reduced. The pool is so easy on the body that it's actually where many athletes go to rehab from injuries suffered elsewhere.
5) It's easier to breathe
This may sound counterintuitive. After all, you can't breathe underwater. But whereas running and other land-based workouts force you to find your own breathing rhythm (which can present problems for some) swimming creates a natural pattern. With each stroke, you'll exhale while your face is submerged, then take in a big gulp of air during the other part of your motion. I usually don't even notice that I'm out of breath until I pull up after finishing my last lap.
6) You'll feel great afterward
I enjoy running, and after I finish up I always feels like I had a productive workout. But oftentimes I also feel pretty achy. My knees bark, my back is sore, my legs feel drained. Conversely, after a swim, I feel fantastic. My body is limber and more flexible, and there are none of the aforementioned joint pains.
7) You can do it at any age
Whether you're 15, 50, or 75, swimming can remain an option. When I hop in the pool at the gyml, I frequently find elderly people swimming right alongside me -- and sometimes beating my pace. If you love it, you can make it a lifetime fitness endeavor.
8) It is great for your lungs
The aforementioned consistent breathing patterns, completed constantly over a lengthy period of physical activity, can have a profoundly positive impact on your lungs, increasing capacity and overall respiratory wellness. Swimming is one of the best exercises for people who have asthma.
9) It keeps your body temperature neutral
Going for a run on a hot summer day can be brutal. Exercising under the burning sun can cause your body to sweat and overheat, making the workout far more difficult and exhausting. When swimming, the water itself will keep you cool, so that your body never gets too hot despite the potentially strenuous activity.
10) It's fun!
Maybe I'm just speaking for myself here, but I thoroughly enjoy swimming. I love being in the water, and I love pushing myself for better form, faster laps and longer distances. It's an enjoyable challenge that will prove very fulfilling if you stick with it.