The Effects of Swimming Vs. Running on the Heart

Swimming is a full-body exercise that also improves cardiovascular health.
i Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Cardio -- it can leave you tired and out of breath. It can also get your heart pumping and, if you do it often enough, keep it beating strong for years to come. Swimming and running are both aerobic activities that can have a positive impact on your heart and improve your overall health by reducing your risk of illnesses such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

Cardiovascular Benefits

    Swimming and running help your cardiovascular system by improving your heart rate and training your body to use oxygen more efficiently. A 2009 study conducted by the Cooper Clinic compared several measures of cardiovascular health, including blood pressure and cholesterol levels, between swimmers, runners, walkers and sedentary people. This study showed that swimmers along with runners had the best numbers out of these groups, demonstrating that both swimming and running can be some of the best forms of aerobic activity to help improve heart functioning.

Dangers of Overtraining

    While swimming and running provide cardiovascular benefits, there may be some danger to your heart if you overdo them. According to a May 2013 article in "The Wall Street Journal," some doctors are beginning to draw a parallel between overtraining and heart disease. "Heart disease comes from inflammation and if you're constantly, chronically inflaming yourself, never letting your body heal, why wouldn't there be a relationship between over exercise and heart disease?" the article quotes John Mandrola, a cardiac electrophysiologist. The article also claims "recent studies suggest the significant mortality benefits of running may diminish or disappear at mileage exceeding 30 miles a week." The same dangers may occur if you swim tens of thousands of yards each training day. Dr. Benjamin Levine of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center explains that the "majority of cardiovascular protection comes from exercise at more moderate levels."

Cardio Frequency

    To gain the most heart benefits from swimming, running or any other cardiovascular exercise, you need to do it on a regular basis. recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. The clinic also suggests spreading out this activity throughout the week so that you are ideally doing 30 minutes of aerobics five days a week.


    Moderate amounts of swimming and running can provide similar heart benefits, so you need to consider your health goals and medical issues when deciding which aerobic exercise to include in your cardiovascular routine. Swimming uses your whole body and tones each muscle group while conditioning your heart. However, it is not a weight-bearing exercise. If you want a workout that can also benefit your bones, you should combine it with strength training or other forms of aerobics like running. Running improves your cardiovascular endurance, but the constant pavement pounding can be hard on your joints. Therefore, if you have problems with your knees you should go for a more low-impact aerobic exercise like swimming.

the nest