Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Girl swimming in a pool.

Girl swimming in a pool.
beginning of content

Health benefits of swimming

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Swimming is a sport that you can do in a squad or independently, at any time of year.
  • Being low-impact, swimming is a great option for people recovering from injury.
  • Swimming has many health benefits including increasing your fitness, muscle strength and wellbeing.
  • If you are starting an exercise program you can gradually increase how far and for how long you swim as your fitness improves.
  • Whenever you are near water, there is a risk of drowning. Always practise water safety, and never swim alone.

Wherever there is water, there is a risk of drowning. Always practise water safety and never swim alone.

What are the health benefits of swimming?

Swimming is a great, low-impact sport. It is usually suitable for all ages and fitness levels if you know how to swim properly. Swimming can help people recovering from injury.

Swimming has 4 main ‘strokes’: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. If you are a capable swimmer, you can swim on your own, or in a team or squad.

It offers a few health benefits.

Fitness: if you swim fast, swimming can be a high-intensity workout that helps get you fit. It burns kilojoules, increases your heart rate and improves your ability to exercise longer.

Muscle strength: swimming is a full-body resistance exercise. It strengthens nearly all the muscles in your body while working your core to develop stability.

Low impact: swimming in water relieves pressure on your weight-bearing joints, such as knees and ankles. This means you can build muscle and get fit while reducing your chance of joint injury.

Mental health: like all exercise, swimming causes your body to release natural endorphins. This boosts your mood and relieves stress. Some people find the repetitive motions in swimming a great way to relax and clear their head of negative thoughts.

Brain function: by increasing blood flow and oxygen to your brain, swimming can help you feel more alert and improve your memory.

Social impact: swimming can be a social sport — there are many swim clubs or squads, where you can work out and socialise at the same time.

Who is swimming best suited to?

Consider swimming if you are looking to get fit or take on a new sport. It is a great option for beginners since you can gradually increase how much you swim as you get stronger.

Swimming is a great sport for all ages. It is a convenient way to exercise with so many Australians living near public pools or swimming beaches. Meanwhile, heated indoor pools and a mild climate across much of Australia mean that swimming is a year-round sport for many people.

Swimming has many benefits for people who suffer from joint and muscle pain, such as arthritis pain. Being buoyant in water can help relieve stiffness and increase mobility. While swimming builds strength in muscles that support the joints.

How can I feel more confident in the water?

If you are not a strong swimmer, want to improve your style or are starting out, contact your local aquatic centre about adult swimming lessons.

If you are a beginner, start by spending time in a pool at a depth where you feel comfortable. Whether at the beach or in a public pool, only swim when there is a lifeguard on duty.

Swimming laps with others in a squad, training with a coach or getting group lessons can improve your water skills. Water-based exercise classes, such as aqua aerobics, can also help you gain confidence and skills. Plus they build strength and fitness that will help you swim.

If you are swimming to recover from injury or illness, hydrotherapy may be a good option. Hydrotherapy is a form of water therapy. A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist will guide you and tailor exercises to your specific needs. You can have one-on-one or group hydrotherapy sessions.

How do I start swimming in a safe way?

Have lessons if you need them. Many community pools run swim schools for adults and children — it is never too late, or too early, to learn.

If you are new to swimming, get a health check from your doctor before you begin training, especially if you are older than 55 or have a health condition.

Once you are ready to begin, warm up and stretch to help prevent cramps or injuries. Never swim if there is no one else around. Ideally, you should only swim when there is a lifeguard on duty. Follow the safety signs posted at your pool or beach.

If you have children, consider enrolling them in swimming lessons. Lessons will give them the skills to stay safe in the water, and help them to enjoy swimming throughout their life. Babies can start swimming lessons from 4 months of age.

If you are unwell, for example if you have gastroenteritis, diarrhoea or vomiting, don’t swim for at least 2 weeks after these symptoms have stopped to avoid spreading illness to other pool users.

What equipment do I need for swimming?

You will need:

  • swimsuit
  • towel
  • goggles
  • swimming cap
  • sunscreen, if swimming outdoors

How do I avoid injury while swimming?

Whenever you are near water, you are at risk of drowning. Alcohol can increase this risk. Never swim if you have consumed alcohol. Drinking also impairs your ability to supervise children who are in, or near, water.

Never dive into water If you do not know its depth. Diving into water that is too shallow can lead to spinal injuries such as paralysis.

‘Swimmer’s shoulder’ is a term to describe any injury to the shoulder that occurs because of swimming. You can reduce the chance of injury by learning a good stroke style and stretching before each swim.

Take 5 minutes before and after your swim to stretch your muscles and expand your range of motions to prevent injury, especially to your shoulders and back.

Ocean safety

When swimming in the ocean, follow beach safety rules:

  • only swim at a beach that is patrolled by lifeguards
  • only swim between the red-and-yellow flags where the lifeguards can see you and to avoid rips and currents
  • learn how to recognise rip tides yourself
  • if you are in trouble in the water, raise your hand to get help from the lifeguards
  • be sun safe, including wearing waterproof sunscreen

How do I stay motivated while swimming?

Once you are in the water, how quick the time passes when you start swimming may surprise you. Relax into the rhythm of the repetitive motions. Try to enjoy the feeling of moving through the water. Focus on these good feelings whenever you make plans to swim, to associate swimming with positive thoughts.

Here are some tips to help you stay motivated when you take up swimming for sport.

  • Join a club or squad, or arrange to swim in the lane next to a friend. It is harder to cancel when other people are expecting you.
  • Vary your stroke. You could do breaststroke on one day, freestyle on another and a few laps of backstroke on a different day. While different strokes may keep you interested, you are working a few muscle groups and reducing muscle fatigue.
  • Make swimming part of your weekly routine. Setting aside a regular time to swim each week will remove some decision-making.
  • Set short- and long-term goals for yourself. Setting goals that are realistic and achievable, but also a bit of a ‘stretch’, will help keep you motivated. Goal setting helps you measure how far you have come from being a beginner to gaining strength and skill. Whenever you feel a dip in your interest levels, reflect on your achievements.
  • Remind yourself of the health benefits of swimming. Even if you are one of those people who does not love swimming, you will most likely love the results. Feeling good about yourself can be motivating.

Where can I find swimming classes, clubs or coaches?

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


Back To Top

Recommended links

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Asthma: can swimming help? - MyDr.com.au

Swimming has been recommended in the past for people with asthma but there is no evidence that swimming improves asthma symptoms. In elite swimmers, repeated exposure to chlorine may contribute to the development of asthma.

Read more on myDr website

Make a splash with water exercise - Musculoskeletal Australia (MSK)

We all know that when our muscles and joints are stiff or painful, it can be hard to move. But we also know that regular exercise is essential for managing musculoskeletal conditions.

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

Exercise in pregnancy: for women | Raising Children Network

Light to moderate exercise in pregnancy is usually safe. It’s also good for you and your baby. Walking, swimming and stationary cycling are safe exercises.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Aerobic exercise: the health benefits - MyDr.com.au

Find out the many short-term and long-term health benefits of regular aerobic exercise.

Read more on myDr website

Safe return to exercise after pregnancy

Exercise can help you recover after childbirth, make you stronger and improve mood. Here's how to work out safely after a pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Exercising during pregnancy

Doing regular moderate physical activity has health benefits during pregnancy and also helps to prepare the body for childbirth. Read about getting fit during pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Water safety - MyDr.com.au

In Australian waterways in the 12 months to 30 June 2017, 291 lives were lost to drowning. Here are some water safety tips for use at swimming pools, inland waterways and the beach.

Read more on myDr website

Water exercise — Arthritis Australia

Water exercise involves exercising in a pool, usually a heated, warm water pool, and may also be called ‘hydrotherapy’

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Exercising during pregnancy · Pelvic floor friendly exercises · Pelvic Floor First

Information about exercising during pregnancy

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia website

Choose the right exercise for you - MyDr.com.au

Select types of exercise that fit your lifestyle and that you enjoy, because the benefits of exercise depend on you doing it regularly and for the long term.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.