Both running and swimming are popular cardiovascular choices for exercise because they burn calories and tone up your body; however, each type of exercise offers its own unique benefits. Knowing the benefits and risks of both types of exercise can help you choose the best workout for you. And when it comes to fitness success, consistency is key.
Swimming is a low-impact, full-body workout that has shown to reduce blood pressure, lower your risk of certain cancers and increase your overall energy levels. You need to swim 30 minutes most days of the week to achieve these benefits. Compared to running, swimming places 90 percent less stress on your joints while recruiting all of your major muscle groups from your shoulders down through your legs. Because water provides 12 times the resistance as air, it is both a cardiovascular and strength-training workout. Running does not offer these dual benefits.
According to WebMD, running on the treadmill is one of the most effective, challenging and calorie-burning workouts around. Unlike swimming, this workout, which targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and abdominal muscles, takes little instruction to master. Julie Isphording, running coach and host of two health and fitness radio shows in Cincinnati, says that running helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol and improves your cardiovascular health. But be careful -- running places significantly more stresses on your body than swimming. According to Forrest Dolgener, exercise physiologist and professor of exercise science at the University of Northern Iowa, running can be very traumatic on your body. Therefore, swimming 30 minutes may be easier on your joints and muscles than running for an hour on the treadmill.
While all exercise has been shown to promote longevity, running is better at doing so than swimming. Because swimming is typically considered a moderate-intensity activity, while running is a vigorous activity, this intensity has shown to help increase your lifespan. According to the Copenhagen City Heart Study, running one to two and a half hours a week extends a woman’s life on average 5.6 years. While running might help you live longer, swimming helps you live healthier. According to Dr. Joel Stager at Indiana University, swimmers have a slower aging process in terms of bone density, muscle mass and cardiovascular activity compared to nonswimmers.
Your age, weight, and duration and intensity of exercise are all factors for accurately calculating caloric burn. Comparing running for an hour to swimming for 30 minutes, running is the clear winner. A 155-pound woman running at a pace of 5 mph can burn 563 calories in an hour. If she runs at a pace of 6 mph, she can burn 704 calories in an hour. A 155-pound woman swimming freestyle laps for 30 minutes at a light to moderate pace can burn 281 calories. At a vigorous pace, she can burn 352 calories.
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.