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Summertime! How I love the longer days and time outdoors by water. Here in Erie, Pennsylvania, I most enjoy snorkeling in our bay and lake during this time of year. Swimming is such a wonderful way to boost your heart health, I urge you to dive in and move.

Swimming trains the body to use oxygen more efficiently

Swim for Your Heart

Consider the results when a team in China tested the effects of a swimming program on a group of overweight and sedentary young men. They met three times a week, beginning with a five-minute stretch on land. They kicked for five minutes in the water and swam for 30 minutes, including the front crawl and breast stroke. The men achieved 50 percent of their peak desired heart rate in the first two weeks, and between 65 and 80 percent afterwards. The routine ended with a 10-minute cool down and five-minute stretch.

At Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, we teach participants in our nine-week program to reach for exactly these “moderate intensity” heart rates. After eight weeks, according to a December, 2016 report in Biomedical Engineering, the young Chinese swimmers had lost body fat. They also improved on key measures of heart health: arterial stiffness, blood pressure, and blood to the brain. They also continued to lose body fat over the next month.

More Flexible Arteries

Many heart patients who find it difficult to exercise have stiff arteries. You’ve seen an old stiff garden hose—that’s exactly what happens to arteries as we age if we don’t work out. Exercise makes arteries expand and contract, helping them stay flexible.

Swimming trains the body to use oxygen more efficiently. You’ll use your arms, legs, and other muscle groups in a coordinated way.   It combines both cardio and light strength-training. You’ll even use muscles—for example, in the shoulders and chest–that often go idle during a normal day and even in many fitness programs. Water is also gentle on the joints, which may make swimming enjoyable even if you have painful or limiting arthritis or back problems. Swimming can also burn a surprising amount of calories.

Add up those benefits and swimming may extend your life. In a 2008 study at the Cooper Clinic at Dallas, described in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, researchers followed more than 40,500 men ages 20 to 90 over an average of 13 years. Some of them were regular swimmers; others walked, ran or didn’t exercise. In that period, only 2 percent of the swimmers died, compared with 8 percent of the runners, 9 percent of the walkers, and 11 percent of the sedentary group.

For my tips on how to get the most out of your time in water, year round, see Ornish Living article, “Dive Into the Benefits of Swimming.

Get Outdoors

Whenever you can, I say, favor outdoor swimming. Exercise in natural settings promotes serenity, and can be a great healer when you’re feeling lonely or isolated. For many of us, water is especially soothing. Try yoga or meditation at the beach or lakeside for a taste of the peace you’d like to bring to your daily life.

Swim in the ocean. If your stroke is reasonably strong, the ocean offers an invigorating encounter with a tide, waves, and an enormous sky.

Sand Yields and Rewards

Any exercise you do on land—squats, walking, jogging, lunges, and push-ups—is more challenging and rewarding on sand. Sand gives when you lean into a squat, for example, so you’ll burn more calories and need better balance and muscle strength to push up than you would on land. Sand volleyball, badminton, or soccer are especially challenging–and fun. I love to jump into the water afterwards, then stretch out on a towel, and invite my wife to apply sunblock in her sweetest way before I gaze up at the sky.

How has swimming improved your health?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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