Swimming is an effective form of aerobic activity that tones the body and is also easy on the joints. Doing it for as little as two and half hours a week helps reduce the risk of chronic disease and death by half, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of its many health benefits, swimming also helps improve the heart’s overall efficiency by lowering resting heart rate. Swimmers are a lot less likely to develop cardiovascular problems than non-swimmers. What’s more, because it's low impact, people of all ages can swim and improve their health.
How Swimming Affects Heart Rate
Swimming increases heart rate during the exercise. However, it is still about 13 percent lower compared to increased heart rate when engaging in non-aquatic exercises such as running, HowToBeFit.com notes. Factors such as water temperature, gravity, compression and dive reflex affect heart rate increase during swimming. Water generally cools the body more easily than air. The resulting lower body temperature makes it easier for the heart to pump blood. Water also compresses the body and the resulting added pressure actually facilitates oxygen exchange. There is also the dive reflex, which refers to an involuntary reaction of the body that lowers heart rate and blood pressure when submerged in water. All of these factors mean that people generally have lower heart rates despite being engaged in strenuous physical exertion while swimming.
Different Strokes and the Heart
The various kinds of swimming strokes elevate the heart at slightly different rates. The butterfly stroke elevates heart rate the most, followed closely by the freestyle and breaststroke. The backstroke elevates heart rate the least among the other strokes. However, a study published in the "Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology" demonstrated that the differences among increased heart rates of the various strokes are really small. This suggests that despite the variation among swimming strokes, the effect on heart rate increase is fairly consistent.
Lower Resting Heart Rate
Swimming lowers resting heart rate. Resting heart rate refers the rate at which the heart beats when a person isn’t doing anything physically strenuous, according to the National Emergency Medicine Association. A resting heart rate of between 60 to 90 is considered normal, but regular exercise and a high level of fitness can lower this to the 40 to 60 range. Swimming exercises the heart, and teaches the body to use oxygen more efficiently compared to other forms of exercise, notes the Harvard Health Newsletters. This increased efficiency explains why swimmers tend to have lower resting heart rates compared to non-swimmers.
To maximize the benefits of swimming, factors such as exercise duration, intensity and technique need to be considered, notes Enjoy-Swimming.com. Swimmers benefit from a few 30-minute swim sessions every week. Typically, the greater the frequency, the better the impact on overall health. Intensity is a vital factor to consider. Swimming should ideally increase a swimmer’s heart rate to about 60 to 80 percent maximum capacity in order to sufficiently work out the heart and burn fat. Proper form and technique are also important. Poor form leads to inefficient energy use and also makes it more difficult to reach the ideal heart rate range. Being mindful of these factors helps ensure swimmers get the most out of their exercise routine.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Benefits of Water-Based Exercise
- Enjoy-Swimming.com: Swimming to Lose Weight - Swimming as an Effective Exercise
- Harvard Health Newsletters: Take the Plunge for Your Heart
- HowToBeFit.com: Swimming Heart Rate
- Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology: A Comparative Study of Cardiovascular Stress During Different Swimming Strokes.
- National Emergency Medicine Association: What You Should Know About Your Heart Rate or Pulse
Joseph Pritchard graduated from Our Lady of Fatima Medical School with a medical degree. He has spent almost a decade studying humanity. Dr. Pritchard writes as a San Francisco biology expert for a prominent website and thoroughly enjoys sharing the knowledge he has accumulated.