Swimming is an excellent cardiovascular exercise because it challenges so many of your muscles at the same time, which results in more burned calories than most other forms of exercise. Consequently, swimming is a highly recommended activity for muscle toning and weight loss, although the extent of fat loss from the belly or lower abdominal area depends on many factors including diet, genetics, gender and lifestyle. Consult with a personal trainer and nutritionist about the best strategy to safely lose fat from your belly.
Health Risks of Belly Fat
Belly fat is excess fatty tissue that accumulates in the lower abdominal region around your waistline. Many scientific studies conclude that moderate to high levels of belly fat are strong risk factors for heart attacks, Type-2 diabetes and some forms of cancer, according to “Human Physiology: An Integrated Approach.” In most cases, an accumulation of belly fat is an external indicator that your cardiovascular system is being overworked and that your cells are not responding properly to insulin. As such, excessive belly fat is much more dangerous to your health than being overweight elsewhere in your body.
Factors for Fat Loss
People gain and lose weight at vastly different rates due to gender, body type, metabolic rate, hormone levels, activity levels, hydration, dietary choices, disease conditions and medications, according to “Human Metabolism: Functional Diversity and Integration.” People store and lose fat from specific parts of their body at different rates and sequences based on their genetics, which makes it very difficult to target areas to lose fat from first. For example, pear-shaped women readily store fat in their abdominal area, but initial fat loss from exercise and dietary changes is likely to occur from their faces, neck and upper arms. Some African-American women may quickly lose belly fat but struggle to lose weight from their buttocks and thighs. Some Asian-American women may not store much fat in the belly but accumulate it around their upper arms and face.
Benefits of Swimming
Swimming can contribute to losing belly fat if the amount of exercise you do in the pool burns more calories than you consume in your diet. Swimming doesn’t specifically target belly fat though, for reasons mentioned previously. Swimming involves the contraction of all your major muscle groups and readily increases heart rate and blood flow. And unlike other good cardiovascular exercises such as jogging, swimming is very low impact and easy on your joints. Swimming also has a low rate of injury, although a small risk of drowning exists. In addition to weight loss, swimming is also a great exercise to tone your muscles, especially those in your arms and legs.
If you want to maximize the weight-loss potential of your swimming sessions, swim laps as opposed to just treading water or floating. Start with a couple of laps and increase from there, never increasing the distance you swim by more than 10 percent from week to week. Increasing by more is likely to overdo it and deter you from swimming. Swimming in warmer water, greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, burns more calories because it causes you to sweat and stimulates your metabolism. Once you feel comfortable in your routine, adding fins to your feet can increase the work your legs do while swimming, which burns more calories.
- Human Physiology: An Integrated Approach; Dee Silverthorn and William Ober
- Human Metabolism: Functional Diversity and Integration; J. Ramsey Bronk
- Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance; William D. McArdle et al.
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.