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Get wet, get fit

Jump in the water and reap the fitness benefits while having fun.

By Christian Obmerga

MAY 2012

Get wet, get fit

Swimming is a low-impact activity that involves practically every muscle group. It’s a good pulmonary and cardiovascular exercise. Experts suggest that it can even help alleviate asthma instead of induce it, unlike other exercises.

This water activity burns calories. compares doing breaststrokes or backstrokes to brisk walking or slow jogging suggesting that “you burn about the same number of calories,” while “more vigorous swimming” such as “doing the front crawl vigorously for 30 minutes will burn about 350 calories” for an average woman. The high repetition of movements when paddling also helps tone muscles.

Water for everyone

Swimming an ideal workout for everyone, including the elderly, those recovering from an injury, disabled, overweight and even pregnant women. This is due to water density, which cushions movement.

In an article on, Robert A. Robergs, director of the exercise physiology laboratories at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, says swimming is good especially for those who have physical limitations or who find other forms of exercise painful.

Nathalie Lim, swimming teacher, agrees, “Swimming is also far more beneficial … for people who have problems with weight, because the water mitigates the weight factor. [It’s] good for overweight people when their complaint is they can’t exercise because their knees hurt or their arms hurt.”

Swimming in general is a safe activity, but those who have a medical condition should consult a doctor before starting a program.

Taking your first stroke

While some learn on their own, swimming lessons are advantageous for neophytes. A coach or a teacher can help hasten learning and lessen frustration. Getting your strokes and breathing to work in rhythm can be challenging, requiring the correction of movements to ensure you get the most from each stroke.

Nathalie says a swimming coach can teach you to move through the water efficiently. Her sister Marjorie Lim, also a swimming teacher cites, “quite often you see people doing freestyle … bara-bara, like making windmills, [they] spend more effort, but … don’t get further. The teacher will teach you how or when to bend your arms so that you get the maximum amount of glide out of the stroke.”

Making it a habit

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of physical activity a day, most days of the week to reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Here are some tips to get you started:

Warm up. Nathalie suggests arm rotation exercises and some jumping jacks before you get in the water. But if you’re too eager to get in, you can “do your warm up in the water and do your stretching after your workout. … Just do a few gentle laps of swimming … before you [do it like you normally would], then you can do your stretching after.”

Start slowly. Gail Kislevitz in her book It's Never Too Late suggests to “ease into the routine. During the first week, try swimming for 30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds. Repeat … for a total of 10 [times].” Then “Try varying the length of swimming … [and] resting time. When trying to increase [exercise] time, start by making the 30-second swimming time into 45 seconds while making the 30-second rest period into 15 seconds.”

Build as you progress. “Consider the ‘10 percent rule’ that runners often use,” advises Kislevitz. “Avoid increasing your weekly distance by more than 10 percent over the previous week.” This helps avoid over-training injuries.

Two or three days a week is a good start. “Make sure to take enough rest to catch your breath in between repeats. If 30 seconds [of] rest [are] not enough between swims, adjust your rest interval,” adds Kislevitz

For more on tips on getting your feet wet for fitness, grab your copy of HealthToday’s May issue, out now in newsstands and bookstores.

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