As I watched the US Men's Olympic Swim Team celebrate their dramatic victory in the 200 meter medley, I noticed that these guys have virtually NO BODY FAT on them. Well, they have to have some, otherwise they wouldn't float. Nonetheless, it got me to thinking that swimming is an exercise often overlooked. True, it's sometimes difficult to make the time and find the place to do it, but it burns some serious calories, and, best of all, it's almost injury proof!
I spent many afternoons talking with patients who were frustrated by foot and knee injuries and how those maladies sidelined them from continuing an exercise program. The pounds would then pack on as the calorie burning ceased. Often, I'd suggest swimming as an alternative to many cardio exercises, which are largely based on involving the lower extremities. Swimming is virtually a no impact exercise. Now I know that some of you will point to the elliptical as a no impact cardio machine, and I myself have advocated its use, but let's face it- you still have to use your ankle and knee joints in a big way. If you've had an injury to either of those two, you can still experience some serious pain on the elliptical. The same holds true for the bicycle- stationary or otherwise.
Did you see the size of the shoulders and lats on Michael Phelps? Swimming will give your upper body a grueling workout and build tremendous strength. Moreover, one must keep careful control of breathing with timed respirations to avoid swallowing and/or choking on water. In addition, a recent article in a popular women's magazine pointed to a new trend of increasing interest in triathlons from baby boomer age women. One of those triathlon events is, you guessed it- swimming!
Worried about working out in the hot weather? No need to worry about that with swimming. Any outdoor or indoor pool will usually be set at a comfortable temperature despite potential triple digit heat and humidity on the outside. You will need some simple equipment- luckily none should cost much (except of course for the gym/pool membership). First, I'd advise a comfortable but firmly fitting swim suit. Guys- don't be afraid that you'll be the laughing stock in a Speedo. The popular maker of swim suits has a nice variety of less "sparse" bathing suits. However, try to avoid the "boxer short" variety. They'll produce a ton of "drag" and slow you down, forcing you to waste energy.
Second, a pair of goggles will come in handy. If put on properly with a good vacuum seal, goggles will prevent eye contact with chlorinated water, the bane of many a red-eyed swimmer. Lastly, get a good pair of ear plugs. Getting water stuck in your ear(s) is not only annoying, but can lead to otitis externa or "swimmer's ear"- a painful condition where bacteria set up shop in the water stuck in your ear usually requiring a visit to the doctor and antibiotic eardrops. Remember to also put on a good water resistant sun block with an SPF of at least 30 if you're going to be swimming outdoors.
While no one is expecting you to win any gold medals any time soon, swimming is an excellent cardiovascular exercise and can tone muscles too. The summertime is a perfect time to get started, and the Olympics may provide some extra incentive this year. Of course, always check with your primary care provider before starting any new exercise program. Also, always obey all rules and regulations that are posted at your local pool or beach before swimming. Now- everybody in the pool!
Published On: August 25, 2008