The sport or activity has incredible mental and physical benefits.
As a two-time Olympic swimmer, swimming has been a core part of my life from a very young age. Even now that I no longer swim competitively, I still get in the pool often as a way to stay fit and de-stress, as swimming has incredible mental and physical benefits.
Although there are over 242 million swimmers worldwide, the sport isn’t typically recognized as a common fitness routine the way that running, biking or yoga is. That said, swimming has a multitude of mental and physical health benefits which make it a great workout to lead your fitness routine with. Swimming also makes a great cross-training workout to explore in the winter months, as it works out a lot of the same muscles used in running and biking — glutes, hips, core, shoulders and arms — and increases your cardio, endurance and strength, making you a better overall athlete.
One little-known fact about swimming is that it has fantastic mental health benefits. Exercise in general has a proven correlation to mental health, as it has a positive impact on depression and anxiety, boosts your mood, relieves stress and helps you sleep better. However, swimming arguably has more mental health benefits than most sports, as there’s a significant meditiave aspect to being alone with your thoughts in the pool.
Swimming forces you to disconnect with the rest of the world — you can’t bring your phone in the pool with you, after all — and focus on your body and your breathing. Water is also proven to soothe and reduce stress.
Ever wonder why water fountains exist in busy public centres? It’s not just about aesthetics. Water acts as a multi-sensory stress reliever that calms your mind and boosts your mood. When I was a university student, I used to take naps in the bleachers next to our pool in between classes, because the calming sound of the water would instantly relax me.
Beyond mental health benefits, there’s a multitude of physical benefits that go along with swimming. Swimming is a low-impact sport, which is ideal if you experience any sort of joint or muscle pain. I speak from experience in this area, as I’ve thrown out my back several times since retiring from swimming. The first thing I do when that happens is to lay horizontally in the pool, as it takes the pressure away from those pain points and encourages blood flow to those areas. Swimming also increases cardiovascular levels, strengthens your muscles, and increases lung capacity, promoting endurance in all physical aspects of life.
If you’re looking to make swimming a regular part of your fitness routine, my number one piece of advice is to swim with intention. I often compare getting in the pool without a plan to building Ikea furniture without instructions — you can probably do it, but the outcome might not be what you want. Before you get in the pool, make sure you develop a strategy and routine that you can stick to. Like any sport, you’ll get the best results from swimming when you are constantly working on improving and competing against your personal best. Luckily, there’s now some pretty neat tech (like FORM’s augmented reality swim goggles) that can help you to have a purposeful swim in the pool.
At the end of the day, exercise is about finding what works for you. Swimming has excellent holistic health benefits, improving cardiovascular health, lowering stress and increasing endurance and muscle. But no matter what type of workout you choose to do, make sure you do it with commitment and intention.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Scott Dickens is a two-time Olympic swimmer and Director of Strategic Partnerships at FORM.