Health Benefits Of Swimming


Swimming is a great form of aerobic exercise to incorporate into your daily life and is suitable for people of all ages, fitness levels, and abilities. It has benefits for both physical and mental health, including:

  • Enhancing fitness
  • Managing weight
  • Engaging most major muscle groups in the body
  • Toning muscles
  • Improving strength
  • Increasing heart rate without putting stress on the body
  • Improving sleep
  • Boosting mood
  • Managing stress levels1

Therefore, being able to swim, swimming regularly, and swimming as part of community activities can have powerful positive effects on your health, quality of life, and general well-being. For example, any level of participation in swimming in comparison to none, produces a 41% reduction in cardiovascular-related mortality, and a 28% reduction in deaths from any cause. 

Furthermore, in comparison with land-based exercise, it appears that swimming has additional and specific health benefits. Therefore, it is important that the healthcare systems of countries worldwide attempt to promote swimming as an accessible and extremely beneficial form of exercise.2

Physical benefits of swimming

It is widely known that lack of physical activity is a prominent global health problem. Worldwide there is a significant proportion of children, adolescents, and adults who fail to meet the recommended levels of physical activity. The physical benefits of swimming are thought to be due, in part, to the combined physical benefits of aerobic exercise and those benefits conferred by the unique properties of water as an exercise medium.3

Swimming increases endurance and strength

Swimming is a low-impact form of exercise that is very efficient at building cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength.4 It has been shown that due to water viscosity, swimming requires four times the amount of energy to cover a certain distance compared to running.3 This highlights how efficiently swimming can provide aerobic exercise. It also engages multiple muscle groups throughout the whole body, leading to increased muscular strength.

Swimming improves flexibility

As swimming actions involve reaching, twisting, stretching, and pulling your body through the water, it has been found to significantly improve overall flexibility. Additionally, because different swimming strokes require you to move your body in different ways, switching up your stroke style can further help to enhance the flexibility of different muscle groups in the body.

Swimming decreases inflammation

Studies have shown that because swimming is an aerobic exercise, it can have a beneficial impact on reducing inflammation systemically i.e., throughout the whole body. Reducing inflammation, in turn, can help to prevent the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries which are responsible for atherosclerosis in the cardiovascular system.4 

As the narrowing of arteries due to these deposits characterises atherosclerosis, this means that swimming can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and improve overall heart health. Additionally, because swimming can help decrease inflammation in the whole body, through this it can contribute to attenuating the disease progression of a variety of health conditions.  

Swimming is great at burning calories

Swimming can be just as effective at burning calories as running and, in some cases, even more so, depending on the chosen stroke and swimming intensity. The kilocalories (kcal) burnt swimming for 10 minutes of the following strokes are :

  • Breaststroke – 60 kcals
  • Backstroke – 80 kcals
  • Freestyle – 100 kcals
  • Butterfly – 150 kcals 

Swimming improves exercise induced asthma

During swimming, you breathe in moist air. This can be beneficial for individuals whose asthma is triggered by exercise, especially in comparison to the dry air taken in within gyms or exposure to air containing a high pollen count during running, or other forms of outdoor exercise. 

Swimming can help alleviate exercise-induced asthma symptoms. Additionally, there is moderate evidence to suggest that it can improve overall lung function in children and adults. Therefore, swimming is a beneficial form of exercise for people who are diagnosed with asthma and some other lung problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).2

Benefits of swimming for the elderly

As individuals age, the central nervous system’s ability to maintain body balance becomes impaired and overall muscle bulk and strength decreases – this combination increases the risks of elderly people having falls. 

While exercise can help to reduce the progression of these age-related changes, many elderly people tend not to participate in physical exercise despite the health benefits, in part due to the perceived risk of falling. 

Swimming is a unique form of exercise in that it is both beneficial for maintaining muscle strength and balance in the elderly, and safe in terms of eliminating perceived, and real, risk of falling. Therefore, swimming is an effective therapeutic option for the elderly for improving balance, enhancing core and limb strength, and reducing falling risk while mitigating age-related frailty.3

Health benefits for women

Various studies have indicated that swimming can help significantly to improve various aspects of women’s health. It is a safe and effective form of exercise during pregnancy and for women who are at risk of, or have, osteoporosis

In the UK, Swimming and aquatic exercise are two of the most common forms of exercise chosen in pregnancy and are often recommended because of the low risk of falling, and the reduced risk of pelvic injury due to hormonally induced ligament laxity

It was found that participants in a study who chose swimming had lower odds for pelvic girdle pain than non-exercisers and that this did not occur with other forms of exercise.3

In women with osteoporosis, research indicated that a high-intensity swimming exercise programme was effective at promoting bone formation while improving muscle strength and flexibility, and balance, thereby reducing falls and fall-related fractures. As such, it was an effective, appropriate alternative for those who cannot engage with high-impact weight-bearing exercises known to help reduce the progression of osteoporosis.3

Furthermore, some preliminary research suggests that swimming may be a potential option for short-term relief of symptoms in women with breast cancer. However, further long-term, rigorous studies need to be performed to investigate and evaluate this comprehensively.3 

Mental health benefits of swimming

Like most forms of exercise, swimming can help improve your mental health. It encourages the release of feel-good chemicals called dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These chemicals have a direct impact on your mood, allowing you to de-stress and generally feel happier.6

Additionally, swimming can help you to fight free radicals and oxidative stress, which are both damaging to the brain. It has been found that individuals with depression tend to exhibit higher levels of oxidative stress. Participating in swimming can help to effectively reduce oxidative stress, potentially offering a beneficial impact on mental health.12 

Finally, swimming can lead to a reduction in the levels of the stress hormone called cortisol, allowing an individual to feel calmer and more relaxed.13

Swimming for improving depression

A systematic review of multiple studies has shown that swimming is a great tool for managing symptoms of depression and that these findings are applicable to a wide variety of groups of individuals.7

  • A 2020 study involving a 10-week swimming programme, showed that participants had reduced anger, fatigue and depression symptoms. Additionally, participants reported improved mood and a good sense of well-being6
  • A review of multiple studies demonstrated that swimming significantly improves mood and alleviates symptoms of depression. In two of the studies reviewed, participants reported that there was a nearly 80% improvement in symptoms7
  • A few studies have also shown that open-water swimming may be an effective treatment for major depressive disorders and can even decrease the requirement for antidepressant medication after following a consistent swimming programme8

Swimming for improving anxiety

Studies have shown that if you engage in a swimming programme consistently,  it can help to effectively manage your stress response, leading to a reduction in symptoms of anxiety. Additionally, swimming can help improve your overall sense of self and make you feel more grounded, by engaging your senses and consequently help you to manage anxiety.7.

Swimming can be beneficial for intelligence

A study conducted by the Griffith Institute for Educational Research found that young children who take part in swimming achieve a variety of skills earlier than the normal population. 

These include visual-motor skills, mathematically related tasks, and the child’s oral expression in areas such as literacy and numeracy. All these skills are relevant and highly applicable to other learning environments and also may help set up the child to perform better later in life.9  

Additional benefits of swimming

Swimming can help improve your sleep

One of the major additional benefits of swimming is that it may help you sleep better at night. Since a large majority of adults struggle with some level of insomnia, swimming is an attractive natural tool to help combat this problem. 

This is supported by a research study that demonstrated that older adults with insomnia who engaged in regular aerobic exercise (a category of exercise that includes swimming) reported improvements in their sleep and quality of life.10

Cold water swimming

Over recent years, the media has reported extensively on the benefits of cold water swimming, leading to a surge in interest and more people participating in the activity. Cold water swimming can be defined as the act of swimming in a lake, pond, or pool when it is at its coldest. The cold water can help to elevate levels of white blood cells (an important component of the body’s immune response) because the body is forced to adapt to these new conditions.14

Furthermore, cold water swimming leads to blood being pushed to the surface of the skin, helping to flush out the blood vessels. Studies have also demonstrated the effectiveness of cold water swimming in improving mood and well-being.6

Safety precautions for swimming

Swimming injuries, drownings, and deaths are, for the most part, largely preventable if simple safety rules are followed. These rules are applicable to all bodies of water:

  • Abide by rules shown on signs
  • Do not run around bodies of water
  • Take care when entering and leaving a pool as surfaces may be slippery
  • Make sure you look around you before you leap or dive into the water – water may be shallow or there may be rocks that could cause serious injury
  • Make sure you swim within your abilities – only swim if you feel comfortable, and do not go deeper or further than you can handle
  • Never swim alone
  • Do not consume alcohol or take drugs – these can slow your reaction times, making it especially dangerous to swim
  • Make sure you are aware of suction hazards such as pool drains or skimmers
  • Look out for underwater traps – for example, railings and pool equipment
  • Stay vigilant of natural hazards such as underwater logs, tidal currents, and sudden drop-offs
  • If you are not a confident swimmer, make sure you wear a life jacket or personal floatation device. This also applies to children


Swimming is one of the most effective types of exercise to incorporate into your daily routine and importantly is suitable for all ages and abilities. 

Some of the physical benefits of swimming include weight loss, increased muscular strength, improved cardiovascular fitness and endurance, and reduced inflammation. Research has demonstrated that swimming is also beneficial for people with asthma, disabilities, and the elderly.  

Swimming doesn’t just provide physical benefits but also has been shown to confer mental health benefits. These include relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety and furthermore, it can even boost intelligence in children. Swimming has also been shown to improve the quality of sleep. 

Since swimming confers such an array of benefits, advocates note that this highlights how important it is that governments worldwide promote swimming as an accessible and beneficial form of exercise. However, it is imperative that the correct swimming precautions are followed to avoid swimming injuries, drownings, and deaths.


  1. Cadman B. Physical and mental benefits of swimming [Internet]. Medical News Today; 2021. Available from: 
  2. Swim England’s Swimming and Health Commission. The health & wellbeing benefits of swimming. 2017 June 21. Available from:
  3. Moffat F. The individual physical health benefits of swimming: a literature review. Swim England’s Swimming and Health Commission. 2017 June 21. Available from:
  4. Why Aerobic Exercise Is Good For The Heart. ScienceDaily, Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.
  5. Massey et al. Mood and well-being of novice open water swimmers and controls during an introductory outdoor swimming programme: A feasibility study. Lifestyle Medicine. 2020 November 10; 1 (2). Available from:
  6. Jackson M et al. Aquatic exercise mental health: A scoping review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2022 June; 66(2022). Available from:
  7. Tulleken CV et al. Open water swimming as a treatment for major depressive disorder. BMJ Case Reports; 2018. Available from:
  8. Griffith University. Children who swim start smarter, study suggests. Science Daily; 2012 November 16. Available from:
  9. Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Med. 2010 October; 11(9): 934-940. Available from:
  10. Silva LA da, Tortelli L, Motta J, Menguer L, Mariano S, Tasca G, et al. Effects of aquatic exercise on mental health, functional autonomy and oxidative stress in depressed elderly individuals: A randomized clinical trial. Clinics (Sao Paulo) [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Oct 5]; 74:e322. Available from:
  11. Papadimitriou K, Loupos D. The Effect of an Alternative Swimming Learning Program on Skills, Technique, Performance, and Salivary Cortisol Concentration at Primary School Ages Novice Swimmers. Healthcare [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Oct 5]; 9(9):1234. Available from:
  12. Knechtle B, Waśkiewicz Z, Sousa CV, Hill L, Nikolaidis PT. Cold Water Swimming—Benefits and Risks: A Narrative Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Oct 5]; 17(23):8984. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Maggie Hudson

Bachelor of Science- BSc (Hons) Neuroscience, University of Edinburgh presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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