You know it's time to get into better shape when you walk up a flight of stairs and find yourself completely out of breath at the end. It can be really embarrassing if your friends or co-workers seem just fine while you're huffing and puffing. When you realize you're overdue for getting your lungs back into shape, swimming is a good option to dive into.
Don't give up if you swim a few laps and still can't hold your breath underwater for more than a few seconds or can't keep up with your teenage niece on a casual jog around the neighborhood. Dedicated swimmers develop a greater lung capacity over time. When you swim, you develop more alveoli in your lungs, which means you can absorb more oxygen for use in your red blood cells. Immersion in water forces your diaphragm to work harder, thus making your lungs more elastic over time. All of these together lead to increased lung capacity.
You don't have to keep up with the fastest swimmer in the lap lane next to you in order to see results. Even a low-intensity swim will increase your stamina. Just 30 minutes of cardio such as swimming, five days a week, will benefit your lungs, making them stronger and more efficient at pumping oxygen to your body. Because you're immersed in water when you swim, your lungs must work harder to deliver oxygen to your body. A low-intensity swim will increase your stamina over time due to the extra work on your lungs, and a high-intensity swim will achieve these results even faster.
If you have lung problems to begin with, swimming could be the perfect exercise for you. It's so beneficial that it even helps people who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). People with COPD have a decreased lung capacity and get less oxygen with every breath than healthy people; thus, they tire out more quickly with just regular activities like walking or vacuuming. But those who exercise in a pool or swim lightly end with less breathlessness and can walk longer on land because of their lungs becoming stronger.
If you have a child with asthma, you might be worried about how active he is and if he'll make his symptoms worse. But taking him to swim laps with you can help his health too. Swimming teaches better breathing techniques. This, along with the strengthening of the lungs, can lead to the alleviation of some children's asthma symptoms. Trying swimming to help with asthma should be done cautiously, as some children with asthma may be sensitive to chlorine and some people get exercise-induced asthma. Consult with a doctor before trying this method for your child.
- NCBI: Comparative Study of Lung Functions in Swimmers and Runners.
- USA Swimming: Swimmers' Lungs Are Not Like Other Humans'
- Wiley: Swimming Aids Asthma Symptoms in Children
- NCBI: Swimming Pool-Based Exercise as Pulmonary Rehabilitation for COPD Patients in Primary Care
- Platinum Pools: New Research Shows That Swimming May Assist Patients with COPD
- Swim Teach: The Benefits of Swimming
- European Lung Foundation: Your Lungs and Exercise
With features published by media such as Business Week and Fox News, Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an accomplished writer with a law degree and a master's in science and technology journalism. She has written for law firms, public relations and marketing agencies, science and technology websites, and business magazines.