Unlike many other residents of Earth, swimming doesn’t come naturally to humans; it’s a skill that must be learned. But it’s well worth learning, because swimming isn’t just a fun activity, it offers numerous health benefits. Swimming is a low-impact exercise because the water holds you up. It’s also an activity you can perform at almost any age. Additionally, it can be an aerobic exercise that burns calories.
The number of calories you’ll burn while swimming depends on your weight and on how vigorously you swim. For example, a 160-pound woman can expect to burn around 423 calories per hour via standard lap swimming, according to MayoClinic.com. If you swim slowly, your calorie count will drop. But if you decide to churn up the water and swim vigorously, a 155-pound woman will burn 744 calories in one hour, according to Harvard Health Publications.
How to Burn Calories While Swimming
To burn the maximum number of calories while you’re swimming, maintain your heart rate within a target range of 60 to 80 percent of your heart’s maximum. Determine your target heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 to find your maximum, then multiplying that by 0.8 for the top number and 0.6 for the low end. If you’re 25 years old, your target rate is 220 minus 25 (195), times 0.8 (156 beats per minute) on the high end, and times 0.6 (117) on the low end. Your target range, therefore, is 117 to 156 beats per minute. One way to maintain your heart rate within the target range is to swim intervals, in which you alternate swimming fast and moderate laps.
Comparison With Other Sports
If you prefer other individual sports, running provides the greatest potential for burning calories, although it’s much harder on your legs than swimming. A 160-pound woman running at 5 mph burns 606 calories in an hour. Increase your speed to 8 mph -- that’s a 7 1/2-minute-mile pace, well within many runners’ capabilities -- and you’ll burn 861 calories in an hour. Rollerblading burns about 548 calories in an hour, ice skating 511, cross-country skiing 496, golfing 314 -- if you carry your clubs -- and bicycling 292, if you average around 10 mph.
As with swimming or any other activity, the number of calories you’ll burn working out in a gym or health club depends on what you do, how vigorously you do it and how long you rest between exercises. But if you weigh 160 pounds you can expect to burn approximately 861 calories jumping rope for an hour, 657 calories per hour on a stair treadmill, or 365 performing either resistance exercises or low-impact aerobics.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.