How Swimming Might Help You Live Longer

By Elaine K. Howley

Swimming and longevity seemingly go hand-in-hand

It’s often been said that swimming is the fountain of youth, and there are several ways in which swimming, as with other forms of exercise, may well aid in longevity. Here’s how adopting a regular swimming routine might help you live longer.

It supports good cardiovascular health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one person dies every 33 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease, which adds up to nearly 700,000 people per year. Some 20% of all deaths in the U.S. are related to heart disease.

But regular aerobic exercise—the kind where you’re breathing hard for an extended period of time—can have powerful effects on heart health. These benefits include a strengthened heart muscle that can more efficiently pump blood and the oxygen it contains to all the cells of your body, lowered blood pressure, and improved circulation. That all adds up to a healthier cardiovascular system that can continue pumping for the long haul.

It builds strong, healthy lungs

Because swimming requires you to control your breathing, that can strengthen your respiratory muscles and improve lung capacity. This is why it’s often recommended that kids with asthma take up swimming to build their lung strength.

In turn, that increased capacity can lead to better oxygenation of the body’s tissues and organs, which supports overall health and wellness for a lifetime.

It builds muscle strength and tone while being gentle on joints

Over time, wear and tear on the joints can lead to arthritis and other chronic conditions that can make movement difficult or painful. But swimming is a low-impact exercise that still provides muscle strengthening and toning benefits that can keep you strong and fit as you age.

Unlike most weight-bearing forms of exercise, such as running, swimming offers a joint-friendly form of aerobic exercise that doesn’t put as much wear-and-tear on your ankles, knees, and hips. Maintaining mobility as you age is critical to remaining independent into your later years when arthritis and other joint problems can cause pain and stiffness.

The more you move now the better you’ll be able to continue moving as you age, so the more you swim, the more likely you’ll be able to keep swimming as you age. Use it or lose it!

It can help you maintain your ideal weight

Obesity is increasingly a problem for many American adults with the CDC reporting that 41.9% of Americans have the disease. Obesity has been associated with several chronic conditions including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, including breast and colorectal cancer.

Taken together, these diseases constitute most diseases that cause preventable, premature death, the CDC reports.

Although obesity is a complex disease that can have multiple contributing factors, eating right and moving more are nearly always cited as part of the solution. Regular aerobic exercise such as swimming can help you burn calories and better manage your weight. Maintaining a healthy weight has been linked with reduced risk of the chronic conditions that obesity increases risk for or exacerbates.

It supports good cognitive and mental health

It’s often said that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain, and that means aerobic exercise can support good brain health. One very specific way that aerobic exercise supports brain health is via the generation of brain-derived neurotropic factor, a protein that helps repair brain cells and support the development of new brain cells.

In fact, exercise has been described as “Miracle-Gro for your brain” by John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist and author of the book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”

BDNF may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and it can also help delay or prevent age-related cognitive decline.

In addition, getting outside in nature can be a powerful antidote to some health-challenging aspects of modern life, and increasingly, researchers are unraveling why we humans tend to feel better after spending time in green spaces such as forests or blue spaces such as the beach.

2020 review study published in the journal Health Promotion International noted that water environments are essential to promoting health, which in turn has implications for longevity. As many swimmers know full well, there’s just something about being submerged in water that many humans respond positively to.

The feeling of moving through water also often provides stress relief and helps with mental health management. And that’s important for longevity because according to a 2022 study in The Lancet, people with severe mental illness live on average 10 to 20 years less than the general population.

What’s more, the friends you make through Masters swimming can push back feelings of loneliness, which is known to contribute to mortality. Research has suggested that loneliness can cut your life expectancy by up to 15 years, so getting out, staying social, and spending time with friends at your Masters swim practice could literally add years to your life.

About The Author

Elaine K. Howley is an award-winning freelance writer and editor specializing in sports, health, and history topics. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications including AARP.org, Atlas Obscura, espnW, and U.S. News & World Report. A lifelong swimmer who specializes in cold water marathon swimming, she has contributed to SWIMMER magazine since 2009 and USMS.org since 2012. Contact her via her website: elainekhowley.com