Swimming: the complete mind (and body) workout

Published 01 Feb 2024

We live in a nation surrounded by water and it’s no secret that Australians love a dip, but did you know that swimming combines three types of exercise in one and provides mental health benefits as well as physical? Not only that, but it’s also suitable for all age groups and fitness levels (once you have the know-how).


What are the health benefits of swimming?

Often considered a ‘gentle’ exercise, swimming provides a whole-body workout as you need to move most parts of the body to propel yourself through the water. It combines aerobic, stretching and strengthening exercise and over time, regular swimming can help you to:

  • improve cardiovascular and lung health
  • build muscle strength and tone
  • increase fitness and endurance
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • improve coordination, balance and posture


Why choose swimming over another form of exercise?

Swimming is a fun and effective way to stay active and look after your physical health, and may be preferred over other forms of exercise because it is:

  • low impact
  • suitable for all fitness levels
  • adaptable – you can easily adjust the intensity of your workout by moderating your speed, stroke (freestyle, breaststroke, sidestroke, backstroke, butterfly or doggy paddle) or spacing of breaths
  • able to be done independently, with a swim buddy or as part of a group
  • a family friendly activity
  • an indoor or outdoor activity
  • not just for warmer months – swimming can be enjoyed year-round with a few modifications e.g., wearing a wetsuit or choosing to swim in a heated pool
  • low cost or even free!


Can I swim if I have an injury, muscle or joint-related condition, or if I am pregnant?

The beauty of swimming is that while it provides a great workout, it’s also low impact and relieves pressure on weight-bearing joints. It’s often recommended for people experiencing muscle and joint pain, such as arthritis, and can help with recovery from certain injuries. Your physiotherapist may also recommend hydrotherapy – a form of physiotherapy that involves supervised water-based exercises.

Along with walking, swimming is one of the few forms of exercise that is recommended in all three trimesters of pregnancy and can help to relieve pregnancy-related aches and pains with the water supporting your growing body weight.

Speak with your doctor if you would like to take up swimming during your pregnancy but have some questions or concerns.


What about the mental health benefits of swimming?

Physical activity alone can do wonders for our mental health and wellbeing through the release of endorphins – one of the body’s natural pain relieving, feel-good hormones. Regular exercise also helps to boost energy levels, promote brain function, and improve sleep quality which has a positive effect on our mood. There are additional benefits for the mind from swimming.

  • Focus is required to ensure that you’re maintaining your stroke and regular breaths – this can help to take your mind off other things, induce a meditative state and help with stress-related conditions
  • The repetitive motions and noise-cancelling effect of swimming can be peaceful
  • We usually have to leave the house to swim, getting us out of our own environment – often outdoors – and around other people
  • It is a great way to relax and cool down on hot days


How do I get started?

Whether it’s your first time or your first time in a long time in the water, it helps to be prepared. Here are some handy tips to get you lapping it up.

  • The only equipment you’ll need is a bathing suit, goggles and a towel. A swim cap will also come in handy for keeping hair out of your eyes and your goggles in place. Other paraphernalia such as kick-boards, swimming fins and waterproof headphones are optional.
  • Find a pool near you. Most council-run aquatic centres have a combination of lap pools (indoor or outdoor), and offer swimming lessons, water aerobics classes, free-play areas and swim and sauna facilities. They also often have a gym if you’d like to combine exercises on land and off.
  • If you’re looking for no-fee options, or prefer to exercise outdoors, head to your nearest patrolled beach or community swim spot. Remember to slip, slop, slap if swimming outside, and for safety reasons, never swim alone particularly in open bodies of water or unsupervised areas.
  • Make sure you know how to swim. It’s never too late to learn, or to continue refining your technique (particularly if you’re still trying to master the butterfly stroke). Swim classes are available for all ages – find a swim school near you and ask about adult classes.
  • If you’re new to lap-swimming, go easy on your first try (2-10 laps) and gradually increase the number of laps that you swim with each session. Starting slowly will help to avoid muscle aches and pains, and fatigue – it is a whole-body workout after all.
  • Set yourself realistic goals and vary your workout if needed, particularly as your endurance increases. You can do intervals at a higher speed, switch from breaststroke to freestyle or take breaths every five strokes instead of three.
  • While it is low-impact, swimming involves a lot of repetitive motions. Stretch your muscles before you jump in, to help prevent injury and the risk of ‘swimmer’s shoulder’, or other common conditions.
  • Don’t forget to stay hydrated after a big swim. You may not notice it as much, but you still sweat during a workout in the water and will need to replenish lost fluids.
  • Have fun and relax! Remember that swimming benefits both the body and the mind. It is what you make it, and the choice of exercise intensity and focus is yours.


Swim-starter giveaway

We’re giving members the opportunity to win 1 of 3 swimming packs to help get you started, with each containing a towel, swim cap, goggles and a bag to house your swim gear in. Find out more and enter now.