What are the health benefits of swimming versus other aerobic exercises?
In some ways, the health effects of swimming are similar to those of land-based aerobic activities, such as jogging, walking or bicycling, said Hirofumi Tanaka, the director of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. Like them, swimming is a “rhythmical aerobic exercise that you can maintain continuously” to improve cardiovascular and muscular health, he said.
Experiments by Mr. Tanaka and others have found that swimming “is very effective at reducing blood pressure and improving vascular function,” just as walking and other land-based endurance exercises are.
The unique advantage of swimming is that it is done in water, which provides buoyancy and cooling, he said. “So the incidence of orthopedic injury as well as the rate of heat-related illnesses are both low,” he said.
But swimming has a notable drawback. “It seems to stimulate appetite,” he said, more so than do vigorous land-based exercises like running. As a result, swimming is not particularly effective at promoting weight loss or maintenance.
In a 2005 study of exercise habits and body weight involving more than 15,000 adults ages 53-57, those who briskly walked, jogged or cycled gained little weight over the course of a decade. Those who swam tended to pack on pounds.
Still, “there is no doubt that swimming is a beneficial activity for other factors,” particularly cardiovascular health, Mr. Tanaka said. Just skip the celebratory cupcakes after your laps.