Swimming is a unique form of exercise. It takes humans out of their natural habitat and forces them to negotiate a strange new environment. Celebrity athletes such as Adam Peaty and Ellie Simmonds have helped to increase the public profile of the sport in recent years- but you don’t have to be an Olympian to get involved.
Here’s a look at the pros and cons of taking to the pool:
Pro: swimming is the best form of cardio for building muscle
Swimming is unique in that water is 784 times denser than air, and swimmers move through it using all four limbs. This creates a low-impact stress on the muscles in the body which isn’t replicated by any other form of cardiovascular exercise.
Studies have found that swimming can significantly increase muscle strength, particularly in the shoulders, back, and forearms.
Pro: swimming burns more calories than other forms of cardio
Because you’re using all four limbs and are moving through water rather than air, you expend significantly more energy swimming than you do running or cycling for the same amount of time.
A study conducted by statistician Howard Wainer found that, although champion runners travelled 3.5 times the distance of champion swimmers in the same time span, it was the swimmers who burned the most energy. 25% more to be exact.
Con: risk of contamination
A 2013 CDC study found that 58% of the pool filter samples collected tested positive for E. coli, a warning sign of faecal contamination. Other studies have found evidence of fungal contamination on the floors of swimming pools.
The bottom line is that public swimming pools are very often unhygienic and bacteria-filled environments, which can lead to a variety of illnesses and infections.
Con: risk of drowning
Swimming, especially in the sea or in a private or unsupervised pool, always carries a risk of drowning even if you’re fairly experienced and fit. The CDC reports that in the US between 2005 and 2014, there were an average of 10 accidental drowning deaths each day.
Unfortunately, any health emergency or injury you sustain is going to be far more dangerous in the water that it would be on land.
Should you swim then?
Swimming comes with a host of tremendous health benefits. It’s the perfect way to simultaneously strengthen your muscles, while improving your overall fitness and shedding weight in a low-injury risk environment.
To stay safe, research the areas you plan to swim in in advance, and wherever possible look into the hygiene practices of the pool owners.
Try to avoid swimming alone. Ideally, there should be a lifeguard present or at least a friend or relative to keep an eye on you.
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