Swimming is healthy for your heart – and the rest of you

Your heart rate can change in seconds, depending on what you are doing and feeling, whether you are standing up, sitting down,  exercising vigorously, or having a romantic Valentine’s Day tryst. The aim is to get your heart rate up often enough, so that  settles down into a slow rate at rest. That will help you to live a longer, healthier life, say scientists. Swimming is good exercise for hearts. If you are not a water baby, other forms of regular aerobic exercise will do the healthy trick. – Marika Sboros


SwimmingYou may get your heart pumping with romance on this Valentine’s Day, but the truth is you don’t want your heart racing up, up and away too often and for the wrong reasons. Experts say that the slower your heart beats, the healthier it is. Research also shows that if you exercise regularly, your heart will beat 13 million times less each year than the tickers of couch potatoes.

The benefits for your heart  are legion when you take to the water.

You probably know by now the myriad health risks you face if you don’t exercise regularly and appropriately: sedentary living is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, overweight or obesity, osteoporosis, and mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and stress.

Regular exercise is one antidote to all that. Apart from the obvious physical benefits of exercise, the heart is also a muscle and needs to stay fit. Unfortunately, surveys show that in South Africa, 25% of men and around 50% of women are physically inactive.

Swim4Life’s Ross Johnson says swimming is a particularly good form of exercise because it:

  • Uses almost all the major muscle groups and places a vigorous demand on heart and lungs.
  • Develops muscle strength and endurance while improving posture and flexibility.
  • Is especially useful for people who are overweight, pregnant, or with leg or lower back problems.
  • Is good  for people of all ages and all proficiency levels.
  • Provides most of the aerobic benefits of running, with many of the benefits of resistance training thrown in.
  • Doesn’t  put the strain on connective tissues that running, aerobics and some weight-training regimens do.
  • Helps to control weight (as long as you follow a healthy diet), by decreasing body fat, increasing muscle mass and increasing metabolic rate without the effects of gravity on your joints
  • Improves mental health and mood from a flood of endorphins – “feel good” hormones that are  released during physical activity.
  • Increases quality of life – when you are physically inactive, your body slowly loses strength, stamina and ability to function optimally.

A recent study from the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas,  highlights the heart healthy benefits of swimming for protection against cardiovascular disease. The clinic was founded by American Dr Kenneth Cooper, a pioneer of the concept of preventative medicine  and an international authority on healthy living, and the benefits of a consistent exercise regimen, as well proper nutrition and  supplementation, maintaining a healthy weight and stress management.

One study by Cooper researchers compared blood pressure, cholesterol levels, maximum energy output, and other measures of cardiovascular health across nearly 46,000 male and female walkers, runners, swimmers, and couch potatoes. Swimmers and runners had by far the best numbers, followed fairly closely by walkers.

If you’re already a swimmer, you know all about the benefits of the activity. If you aren’t, it’s never too late to learn how to swim, or to brush up on strokes you learned as a youngster, says Johnson.

Mix your strokes

If you’re a beginner, or getting back into swimming, start slowly with five to 10 minutes of smooth lap swimming, he says. He also recommends that you mix your strokes –freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly. In addition to keeping your swimming routine fresh, variety helps you work different muscles, says Johnson.

If you aren’t a fan of laps, there are excellent aquatic alternatives to swimming. Try walking or running in water, or water aerobics, he says.

And don’t forget weight bearing exercise. While swimming can be good for the heart, lungs, blood vessels, and muscles, it doesn’t do much for the bones, says Johnson. Swimmers need to supplement training with some weight-bearing exercise, such as strength training, walking, dancing, stair climbing, or even gardening.

Virgin Active’s Dr Dave Bernhardi says any regular physical activity, together with a healthy lifestyle, eating correctly, reducing alcohol intake and not smoking is beneficial. But just how much regular exercise is enough? Bernhardi says adults should do  a minimum of 40 minutes of moderate-intensity three to five times a week.  Sapa



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