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Girl swimming in a pool.

Girl swimming in a pool.
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Health benefits of swimming

6-minute read

Swimming is a healthy, low-impact activity that has many physical and mental health benefits.

Why is swimming good for me?

Swimming is a low impact form of exercise that is accessible to people of all ages. It provides a great cardiovascular workout as well as a workout for the whole body including the arms, back and shoulders.

Swimming is safe for people of any age who have asthma, as long as it does not trigger asthma symptoms. If you have asthma, you should discuss swimming with your doctor before diving into any strenuous pool activities.

When should children learn to swim?

While there are a few different guidelines and opinions on when children should learn to swim, the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association recommends that infants can start swimming lessons with a teacher at 4 months of age. This gives the infant enough time to allow a medical history to develop, their immune system to strengthen and bonding to occur with the primary caretaker.

Learning to swim, and being confident and familiar with water, is important for everyone. Swimming skills, particularly in children, are fundamental to every individual’s safety to ensure they have the ability to survive in and around the water.

Even if children are confident in the water, proper adult supervision should never be overlooked. 21 children between the ages of 0 and 14 drowned in Australia between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020. Swimming pools were the leading location for drowning among children under 4. 2 children of this age died in the bath.

Research shows that kids who swim are smarter. Researchers from Griffith Institute for Educational Research found young children who participated in early-years swimming achieved a wide range of skills earlier than the normal population.

Can children with special needs benefit from swimming?

Swimming can help children with special needs have fun in a non-competitive environment while providing vital water-survival skills. It’s also an activity that their parents and siblings can take part in as well.

Water-based activities are also fantastic for visually impaired children because they can learn about body image and space by using concrete reference points such as the water level or the side of the pool. The water also offers intensive sensory stimulation for children with multiple disabilities which other environments cannot provide.

What is the difference between a swimming teacher and a swimming coach?

A qualified swimming and safety teacher focuses on teaching basic water skills such as how to get in and out of the water in a variety of locations. They also teach the different swimming strokes. Swimming coaches assist swimmers who already have the basic water skills to swim further, faster and better through strategies such as improving their competitive stroke styles and training techniques.

How can I participate in competitive swimming?

Swimmers must belong to a swimming club to compete at competitions. Most swimming clubs offer training sessions up to 6 days a week in the morning and evening. The amount of training depends on the person’s swimming ability and age.

The benefits of being a part of a swimming club include socialisation, overall fitness, organisational and time management skills and personal rewards as swimmers reach goals such as achieving personal best times in competitions.

Can I participate in competitive swimming as an adult?

Yes. Masters Swimming Australia offers competitive swimming for adults from 18 years to 99 years in both swimming pools and in open water. They also offer programs such as the Endurance 1000 Program, which is designed to encourage people to compete in distances from 400m up to 60 minutes duration in a variety of strokes. You can contact Masters Swimming Australia on their website. Adult swimmers can also find a club through Swimming Australia.

What if I don’t want to swim laps in a pool or do competitive swimming?

There are lots of recreational swimming activities that can happen in a pool such as aqua aerobics. This is a fantastic activity for all age groups especially the over 50s because it’s great for the heart and easy on the joints.

Water games, such as Marco Polo or Pool Tag Survivor, are also great ways to enjoy the water, build children’s swimming skills and help them develop a healthy respect for the water including its dangers. For the rules of these games and others go to Swim and Survive.

Recreational swimming is also a low-cost, relaxing, low-impact activity that gives the body an all over workout.

How do I get started, and keep swimming?

Simply contact a swimming organisation and find out what works for you and your lifestyle. Set some goals such as working up to swimming 5 laps of an Olympic size pool without stopping, then move the goal posts as you improve.

What do I need to know about swimming in the ocean?

More than 8 in 10 Australians live near the coast, and swimming in the ocean is a part of our national identity. Tragically, there were 45 drowning deaths on beaches, and 51 drowning deaths in the ocean or a harbour, from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020.

There are a number of risks associated with swimming in the ocean including:

  • dangerous waves (plunging, dumping and surging waves)
  • being caught in a rip current
  • tide movements, especially when it is going out
  • spinal injuries caused by being dumped head-first by a wave, diving head-first into the water or jumping off rocks and hitting submerged objects other than the sea floor

To make sure you stay safe when swimming in the ocean, you should:

  • always swim between the red and yellow flags on patrolled beaches
  • look for signs at the entrance to the beach for local information
  • never swim alone, always swim with someone else
  • never swim under the influence of alcohol or after a big meal

For more information on swimming safely in the ocean go to Surf Life Saving.

Where can I find more information about swimming?

Swimming organisations to contact for more information include:

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

Last reviewed: October 2020


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