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The year 2020 has been nothing short of a Bollywood movie for me. For the longest time in recent years, I was on the wrong side of every health metric one can think of — the weighing scale, BMI…


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Why swimming could win first prize as the best all round type of exercise

What is best type of exercise we can do? This is possibly the question I get asked most frequently both in my role at Lifestyles and during my PhD research. Of course there is no ‘one fits all’ answer however, swimming and other water-based exercises would be strong contenders. There are numerous activities, or competitive events one can do and not just restricted to the public swimming pool. Of course swimming or exercising in water confers extensive benefits to health and wellbeing whilst being accessible and inclusive having advantages over other land-based exercises. It is particularly beneficial for those with long term physical health conditions or those recovering from injury or competition, providing a moderated and low-impact way of maintaining a regular physical activity routine. Unsurprisingly, water-based exercises are some of the most popular choices for exercise for health practitioners when prescribing adapted aerobic and strength exercises across a range of clinical and non-clinical populations; regular swimming sessions or aerobic classes have been shown to increase cardiorespiratory fitness, improve blood-sugar control, and heart health and reduce inflammation and pain in some conditions. What’s more regular swimming can improve wellbeing and general mood; shown to reduce daily stress levels, anxiety and depression, and even improve sleep quality.

Let’s look more into the science behind this: what is it about exercising in water that gives such advantages?

It was Archimedes, an important mathematician, physicist and generally very intelligent guy, who had a ‘light-bulb’ moment whilst immersing himself in a bath leading to his principle for discovering the key properties of liquids. The law states that the when the body is immersed in liquid, it is held up by a force that is equal to the weight of the fluid that has been displaced by the body. Water is slightly denser than the human body also. This law explains the effect of buoyancy within water and hugely reduces the weight of the body on the bones, peripheral joints and spine. This property makes it ideal for women who are pregnant, safe to continue as pregnancy progresses. This also makes water based exercise more comfortable for people who carry more body fat, those with joint or muscular pain and those recovering from joint surgery or injury. This force also helps support the weight during movement which allows those who are less able bodied patients to increase their range of motion in an adapted environment, such as in a swimming pool. Hydrotherapy has gained recognition for its therapeutic qualities, important in strengthening and recovery in rehabilitation and healing. Furthermore, moving through the water requires more energy as water is having to be pushed away and causes drag which can increase the amount of calories used within a given time. This added force means that water based exercise can be aerobic but also strength based. This property is excellent and safe for elderly or frail populations or those who may have little balance who cannot reach the aerobic intensity or perform resistance exercise on land. They can feel more confident to exercise in a more supportive and buoyant environment as the risk of falling is minimised. The hydrostatic pressure of the water also aids the movement of blood throughout the body which can help reduce inflammation, joint and muscle pain and water retention. Swimming and exercise In water is an ideal choice for those with Inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis who can find the weight bearing exercises on land painful and hard to tolerate. Additionally, water easily conducts heat, allowing many public swimming pools to monitor and control the temperature to usually around 27–29°C. During therapy-based sessions, this can be increased to 33.5–35.5°C to warm muscles and prevent further injury. Maintaining a warmer or neutral water temperature provides a safe, comfortable and appealing to populations that may feel the cold, such as the elderly.

Swimming in potentially busy, warmer and chlorine water is not for everyone. Why not try swimming in the open water? The Docks or Crosby marina in Liverpool offer the option of doing so from April — October (see links at the bottom of the page). Although many wear a wetsuit, others find they can tolerate the (variable) water temperatures. More and more swimming events are popping up at different distances and for all abilities, for example The great north swim in Windermere is excellent for beginners. Also more triathlons (both pool and open water) and swim-run events are opening up for all abilities.

Swimming as an exercise and competitive sport has gained popularity over the past two decades, now with an ample body of research supporting its physically and mentally therapeutic practice. Learning to swim is now encouraged from an early age and throughout the education system. This enables young people to gain a valuable and rewarding skill that has the potential to be lifesaving, rewarding and enjoyable for the duration of their life. In addition, water- based activities introduced at a young age have gained important recognition for preventing avoidable death through drowning and reducing the fear of water that may otherwise prevent people from learning to swim at a later stage. Encouragingly, it is now common for leisure centres to have parent and baby or toddler swim sessions. Lifestyle centres across Liverpool have opportunities for swimming lessons for all abilities, aqua-aerobics and aqua running classes.

So what do you think the best all round exercise could be? I don’t think there is a ‘one fits all’ but I think exercising in water would be a hard one to beat.

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