Stepping in to a swimming pool or any type of deep water, opens up your body to a powerful mix of reactions to benefit both body and soul.
Water Can Tone Certain Body Parts
Swimming is well known for being an excellent form of exercise, and regular swimming will see you improve your cardiovascular fitness, tone up and probably drop a couple of pounds in the process. As a muscle-building exercise, the resistance will see you becoming leaner and denser, as muscle is less ‘fluffy’ than fat pound for pound and creates that beautiful athletic shape that everyone desires. However, one other great fact about swimming is that its supports targeted toning of ‘trouble spots’ for those that feel they have them. For example, breaststroke works your legs, hips, bottom and groin and your arms too. Butterfly is a powerful and high-energy stroke which works your upper body and core in particular. Kickboards will strengthen kick technique and build strength in your legs. In the same vein, a pullbuoy between your thighs will focus on your pulling technique and work your upper body. To improve your catch through the water and add extra resistance for toning your arms and shoulders, try paddles, available for all levels of resistance training and hand sizes. Mix it up and enjoy a full body workout every time.
Water Can Confuse Your Body
Your circulation speeds up when you are in water. The circulatory pattern between your heart and lungs and your arms and legs will go faster, which will have a strange effect overall and make you think you need to wee. Why? Because this faster movement makes your body think that you must have drunk a lot of liquid, and so your kidneys begin to automatically produce greater amounts. Most swimmers will recognise this need to go for a wee the minute that they get into the pool. It’s not just psychological. Don’t risk allowing yourself to become dehydrated, though, in a bid to reduce this effect – it’s always far more important to stay adequately hydrated and drink during training to allow for maximum performance benefits. Bring a bottle to training sessions and sip on it occasionally. Try water with a pinch of salt and sugar and some fruit juice mixed in for taste. This acts as an isotonic drink to rebalance your electrolytes without your needing to spend money on expensive – and often highly calorific – commercial drink preparations. For recipe ideas check out these healthy DIY Isotonic Drinks.
Water Cools Your Body Down Faster Than Air
Your body is naturally familiar with water and air, but both elements act in varying ways. For example, on a spring day when warmth of around 20 degrees hits your skin, the conducting effect rapidly takes this warmth away – up to twenty-five times faster than air does. This is because water conducts heat quicker due to its greater density. This will give you a refreshing and energising cool sensation on a warm day and will act to boost your circulation and help you to warm up. Cold-water swimming also offers similar benefits – as you get out of the water, there is a rapid drop in core body temperature. This means you need to dry and get dresses rapidly to avoid the risk of hypothermia. Always dress appropriately if swimming outdoors – a wetsuit is usually recommended unless it’s the middle of summer and particularly hot.
Your Muscles May Cramp Up
When cold water comes into contact with your warm body, your blood supply rapidly slows and your blood vessels constrict. This leads to the painful sensation of cramp, or muscle spasm. There is nothing worse than getting into the pool and experiencing cramp in your legs or feet. It can also be dangerous when people are wild-swimming and in challenging conditions or deep water. To reduce the risk of it occurring, make sure you are taking enough sodium and potassium to keep your blood vessels open and fully functioning. Most of us get enough sodium, or salt, in our daily diets, but very hot weather can deplete levels through sweating. Lots of heavy exercise will have the same effect, which is why you can also cramp up after a long training session. Potassium is found in various foods, but bananas and coconut water are both very good choices. Try taking a broad-spectrum multi-vitamin too.
Water Works Your Whole Body
Swimming works your entire body at once, with your lower body, arms and core all needing to engage to deliver the stroke. This means that it is a total cardio workout, and this alone sets it apart from other sports such as walking or running, which tend to focus on your legs, bottom and thighs. It also allows you to work at your own pace. You can be a complete beginner or an Olympic-level athlete and you will get a superb workout – without any equipment or kit required beyond a few absolute basics. Yet another reason to love swimming.
It Is Low-Impact
Swimming doesn’t strain joints like other forms of sport or exercise can. People who start running on the road regularly often experience pain in their joints, particularly the knees, and this is due to the high impact of running and jogging, especially if you do so on hard surfaces or in poor shoes. Swimming works the whole body in different directions and offers a powerful resistance workout but without jarring movements. The buoyancy is the key to reducing the impact on your joints, and this makes it a great form of rehabilitation exercise or beginner’s exercise, as well as an ideal choice for elderly people, pregnant women and those looking to get fit from scratch or get strong again after an injury.
Swimming Is Mood-Boosting
When you swim, your body releases endorphins which make you feel good. Swimming is a particularly strong influence on mood because of the combination of warm water and the sensation that comes with being weightless. Studies have showed that there may even be an evolutionary reason for this powerful mood boost, but certainly the sensation of being warm, supported and comfortable is a powerful means of feeling good. Capitalise on it by enjoying some purely relaxing sessions at the pool and enjoy a good shower and wind-down afterwards with beautifully scented products that provide an additional boost. Lavender is great for winding down in the evening, and peppermint or grapefruit can be a wonderful energy booster to help capitalise on your exercise-induced high.
Water Protects Your Heart
Incredibly, being in the pool also has protective benefits for the heart. When you dive into water, your heart effectively switches into a type of ‘power-save’ mode, switching down a notch to around 60 bpm from around 80 bpm. This is because it knows that water doesn’t provide oxygen, and it compensates by using as little as possible in order to preserve stores.
Water Is a Powerful Healer
Water has long featured in many cultures for its ability to heal and replenish. The Japanese love natural and heated outdoor pools, which are usually heated via geothermal or volcanic energy. The Swedes love saunas and steam baths, and the British love Jacuzzis. From the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, hydrotherapy treatments were greatly in demand and respected by doctors. Mineral waters gave great benefits to the body and mind, and natural sources led to towns such as Buxton and Bath becoming hugely popular destinations with those wanting to ‘sample the waters’. Even today, hydrotherapy is used for mainstream therapies such as spinal injury treatment, nerve weaknesses and cardiac problems.
Water Has Powerful Mental Benefits
There is a powerful connection between the brain and water, which has been explored by neuroscientists and is a growing field of research. The state of ‘blue mind’ represents the meditative state that the brain enters into when a person is in the water, bringing a sense of peace, well-being and unity. Scientists explain that because the human body is made up of around two-thirds water, the brain goes into a powerfully beneficial state when it is near or within water. The water effectively works to give the brain a break from the stimulation that dominates our life – both visual and auditory. An escape from gravity also allows your muscles to rest and relax. Remember that over three hundred muscles are needed simply for you to stand up.
With your brain in relaxation mode, the network that governs insight and creativity is naturally activated. This can lead to new insights, benefits to health and also peak performance. It may be hard to find relaxation in a busy pool during training night or at the weekend, but if you can find a quiet pool to swim in when it is peaceful and half-empty, you will really feel the benefits. Remember too that even having a calming deep bath provides valuable benefits. Try using Epsom salts in the water to give your body lots of valuable magnesium and other minerals and to detox heavy metals and the chemicals that your body regularly comes into contact with when swimming in a chlorinated pool.
So next time you get into the pool, think about the myriad of powerful health and well-being benefits the water is having on your mind and body, and remember all over again how you love the waer and how it loves you right back.