Whether you want to lose weight, improve overall fitness or simply feel better, aerobic exercise can help you reach your goal. Aerobic activities such as running, walking and swimming use the large muscles of the body, causing you to breathe more rapidly and, over time, making your heart stronger. Walking and lap swimming are both aerobic activities, but they have different effects on the body. If you want to try either exercise, consider other factors such as convenience, comfort and special equipment you might need.
Most adults between the ages of 18 and 64 need to engage in aerobic exercise every week to maintain or improve their health. If you choose a moderate intensity aerobic exercise such as walking, you should perform the activity at least 150 minutes each week, according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults as outlined by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. If you engage in a vigorous aerobic activity such as swimming laps, you need to perform the exercise at least 75 minutes per week. Increase the time and intensity for more health benefits.
To lose weight, you can exercise more, eat less or combine both methods. Because 1 pound equals 3,500 calories, you must create a calorie deficit of 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week. The number of calories burned during exercise depends on the type of exercise, intensity, time and the weight of the individual. Walking briskly for 30 minutes burns 120 calories if you weigh 125 pounds; 149 calories if you weigh 155 pounds; or 178 calories if you weigh 185 pounds, according to Harvard Medical School. Swimming laps vigorously for 30 minutes burns approximately 300 calories if you weigh 125 pounds; 372 calories if you weigh 155 pounds; or 444 calories if you weigh 185 pounds. But swimming might not be the best exercise for weight loss. Exercising on land raises your body temperature and speeds up your metabolism for 18 hours after exercising. If you swim, however, the water prevents your body temperature from rising and your metabolism from speeding up afterward.
Swimming provides a full-body workout that strengthens and tones your muscles, especially those of the upper body. Exercising in water provides more resistance than exercising on land, so swimming laps helps to strengthen and tone your muscles, especially those of the upper body. Swimming is a non-weight-bearing exercise because your body weight is supported by the water, so it helps to improve flexibility but does not strengthen your bones. Walking, on the other hand, is a weight-bearing exercise but it does not have much effect on lower body strength, according to the Merck Manual. Walking can be difficult for obese people and those who have joint conditions such as arthritis.
The best exercise is one that you enjoy and will perform on a regular basis. If you do not live near a swimming pool, have never learned to swim or do not have enough time to work on your technique and endurance, swimming may not be the best exercise for you. Walking, on the other hand, is a natural function for most people, and the only special equipment needed is a supportive pair of shoes. If you live in a hot climate, you may want to try walking during the winter months and swimming during the summer to prevent heat illnesses.
- Health: Get Trim When You Swim: 5 Secrets to Burning More Calories in the Pool
- Merck Manual: Choosing the Right Exercise
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Balancing Calories
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Be Active Your Way: Guide for Adults
- Harvard Health Publications: Research Points to Even More Health Benefits of Walking
Marcy Brinkley has been writing professionally since 2007. Her work has appeared in "Chicken Soup for the Soul," "Texas Health Law Reporter" and the "State Bar of Texas Health Law Section Report." Her degrees include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing; a Master of Business Administration; and a Doctor of Jurisprudence.