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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?

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Last reviewed: May 2022

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