Health Benefits of Swimming

Woman swimming in swimming pool

Swimming is the fourth most popular sports activity in the United States and a good way to get regular aerobic physical activity.1 Just two and a half hours per week of aerobic physical activity, such as swimming, bicycling, or running, can decrease the risk of chronic illnesses.2, 3 This can also lead to improved health for people with diabetes and heart disease,2 Swimmers have about half the risk of death compared with inactive people.3 People report enjoying water-based exercise more than exercising on land.4 They can also exercise longer in water than on land without increased effort or joint or muscle pain.5, 6

Arthritis

Water-based exercise can help people with arthritis improve the use of their arthritic joints without worsening symptoms.7 People with rheumatoid arthritis have shown more health improvements after participating in hydrotherapy (exercising in warm water) than with other activities.8 Water-based exercise can also improve the use of affected joints and decrease pain from osteoarthritis.9

Mental Health

Swimming can improve mood in both men and women.10 For people with fibromyalgia, swimming can decrease anxiety, and exercise therapy in warm water can decrease depression and improve mood.11,12 Water-based exercise can improve the health of pregnant people and has a positive effect on the pregnant person’s mental health.13 Parents of children with developmental disabilities find that recreational activities, such as swimming, improve family connections.14

Older Adults

Water-based exercise can benefit older adults by improving their quality of life and decreasing disability.15 It can also improve or help maintain the bone health of post-menopausal women.16

Water-based Exercise Can Benefit Everyone

Exercising in water offers many physical and mental health benefits and is a good choice for anyone who wants to be more active. When in the water, remember to protect yourself and others from illness and injury by practicing healthy and safe swimming behaviors.

  1. US Census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. Arts, Recreation, and Travel: Participation in Selected Sports Activities 2009. excel icon[XLS – 40 KB]external icon
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Be active, healthy, and happy! In Chapter 2: Physical Activity Has Many Health Benefits.external icon 2009.
  3. Chase NL, Sui X, Blair SN. 2008. Swimming and all-cause mortality risk compared with running, walking, and sedentary habits in men. Int J of Aquatic Res and Educ. 2(3):213-23.
  4. Lotshaw AM, Thompson M, Sadowsky S, Hart MK, and Millard MW. Quality of life and physical performance in land- and water-based pulmonary rehabilitation.external icon J Cardiopulm Rehab. 2007;27:247-51.
  5. Broman G, Quintana M, Engardt M, Gullstrand L, Jansson E, and Kaijser L. Older women’s cardiovascular responses to deep-water running.external icon J Aging Phys Act. 2006;14(1):29-40.
  6. Cider A, Svealv BG, Tang MS, Schaufelberger M, and Andersson B. Immersion in warm water induces improvement in cardiac function in patients with chronic heart failure.external icon Eur J Heart Fail. 2006;8(3):308-13.
  7. Westby MD. A health professional’s guide to exercise prescription for people with arthritis: a review of aerobic fitness activities.external icon Arthritis Rheum. 2001;45(6):501-11.
  8. Hall J, Skevington SM, Maddison PJ, Chapman K. A randomized and controlled trial of hydrotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis.external icon Arthritis Care Res. 1996;9(3):206-15.
  9. Bartels EM, Lund H, Hagen KB, Dagfinrud H, Christensen R, Danneskiold-Samsøe B. Aquatic exercise for the treatment of knee and hip osteoarthritis.external icon Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;3:CD005523.
  10. Berger BG, and Owen DR. Mood alteration with yoga and swimming: aerobic exercise may not be necessary.external icon Percept Mot Skills. 1992;75(3 Pt 2):1331-43.
  11. Tomas-Carus P, Gusi N, Hakkinen A, Hakkinen K, Leal A, and Ortega-Alonso A. Eight months of physical training in warm water improves physical and mental health in women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial.external icon J Rehabil Med. 2008;40(4):248-52.
  12. Gowans SE and deHueck A. Pool exercise for individuals with fibromyalgia.external icon Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2007;19(2):168-73.
  13. Hartmann S and Bung P. Physical exercise during pregnancy—physiological considerations and recommendations.external icon J Perinat Med. 27(3):204-15.
  14. Mactavish JB and Schleien SJ. Re-injecting spontaneity and balance in family life: parents’ perspectives on recreation in families that include children with developmental disability.external icon J Intellect Disabil Res. 2004;48(Pt 2):123-41.
  15. Sato D, Kaneda K, Wakabayashi H, and Nomura T. The water exercise improves health-related quality of life of frail elderly people at day service facility.external icon Qual Life Res. 2007;16:1577-85.
  16. Rotstein A, Harush M, and Vaisman N. The effect of water exercise program on bone density of postmenopausal Women.external icon J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008;48(3):352-9.
Page last reviewed: February 18, 2022