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Is swimming good for weight loss?

Swimming is a popular form of exercise amongst individuals of all ages and abilities. Swimming is a cardiovascular based exercise, which targets a wide range of muscle groups and is beneficial for your overall health.

Anna Hayes
Anna Hayes
Health mentor
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Is swimming good for weight loss?

In this article, we’ll dive (no pun intended) into how swimming may help you lose weight, the overall health benefits of swimming, and the top swimming tips for weight loss. But first, let’s understand the basics of swimming as an exercise form.

What is cardiovascular exercise?

As mentioned, swimming is a form of cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise is physical activity that elevates your heart rate and respiration, which increases oxygen and blood flow throughout the body. 

In addition to swimming, other examples of cardiovascular exercise include:

- Walking

- Running

- Cycling

- And rowing


Taking part in regular cardiovascular exercise helps to strengthen your cardiovascular system, improving your heart's efficiency in pumping blood and increasing lung capacity. This helps to lower blood pressure and decrease the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases. 

For individuals who are overweight, or struggling with obesity, swimming is a good form of exercise as it’s low impact, putting less strain on your muscles and joints. In addition, swimming has been shown to be beneficial for those who suffer with arthritis, by improving joint function.

How does swimming help you lose weight?

Changes in weight are impacted by the amount of energy (calories) expended, versus the amount of energy consumed. If your overall energy expenditure is low for example, lack of daily movement and exercise, but energy intake from food is high this will cause your weight to increase. 

When you swim and take part in other cardiovascular exercises, your body expends energy which will help you to lose weight. 

How effective is swimming for weight loss?

The number of calories expended from swimming varies for each person, and is influenced by a number of factors including your weight, gender, alongside the intensity and duration of the swim. Taking part in cardiovascular exercise increases the rate of your metabolism. It enhances the production of the Fibroblast Growth Factor 21 (FGF21) hormone, which increases metabolism, suppresses appetite and causes more energy to be expended. 

Muscle growth

Swimming helps support weight loss, as the water provides some resistance, which helps you to build lean muscle tissue.

If you have a higher percentage of muscle mass, you expend more energy at the same body weight than if you have less muscle mass.

Reduced stress and anxiety

Taking part in regular aerobic exercise will not only benefit your physical health, but also has a positive impact on your mental health, due to the release of the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. 

Cardiovascular exercise for example swimming has been shown to lower stress levels and reduce anxiety and depression. Finding ways to help reduce stress plays a key role in weight loss, as high levels of stress can decrease motivation, and is more likely to enhance appetite and cravings for less nutrient dense foods.

Better sleep quality

Additionally, cardiovascular exercise helps to improve both the quantity and quality of your sleep, which will have a positive impact on your weight loss. Tiredness increases hunger due to lower energy levels, which is more likely to lead to cravings for high energy foods that are less nutrient dense.

What swimming routine is best for weight loss?

It’s important to note that the amount of energy expended from swimming is very individual and depends on your weight, metabolism, and the intensity and duration of the swimming session. 

For the best weight loss results, consistency is key. Therefore, it’s important that you can build swimming or other cardiovascular exercise regularly within your weekly routine. It’s currently recommended that adults should engage in moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week. This could look like doing 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week, which could involve swimming.

There are a wide range of different strokes, that you could include within your swimming routine:

- Breaststroke – Is a commonly used stroke which involves simultaneous arm movements and a frog-like kick. A wide variety of muscles are worked during breaststroke including upper back, chest, triceps, quadriceps hamstrings and calf muscles.

- Freestyle - This stroke is also known as front crawl and is the fastest stroke in swimming. It’s performed by alternating arm movements and a flutter kicking action. This stroke focuses on working your shoulders, abdominals and gluteal muscles.

- Backstroke - Is performed on your back which involves an alternating arm movement and flutter kicking action. This stroke works muscles in your upper back, arms, legs, abdominal and gluteal muscles. It’s also beneficial for improving posture by keeping yourself straight in the water, which will help to lengthen your spine. 

- Butterfly - The butterfly stroke is considered the most challenging and demanding which expends the most energy out of all the swimming strokes. It involves rhythmic arm movements and a dolphin-like kick. A wide range of muscles are worked during this stroke, but particularly the back muscles, the core muscles and arms (especially your triceps). It’s also great for improving posture as it increases your flexibility and stretches out the body. 

Top 5 tips for swimming to lose weight

Now that we’ve established how swimming helps you lose weight, there’s a list of things you should keep in mind if you want to start swimming for weight loss. Here’s our top 5 tips:

1. Take it slow and steady

Particularly if you're not used to taking part in aerobic exercise. This will allow your body to adjust to this type of exercise and it will also feel less overwhelming. Depending on your ability you could start off by swimming for 15 minutes at your own pace, then increase your session by 5 minutes each time.

2. Once you feel more confident try to vary your routine

You can do this by mixing up the strokes, intensity and duration of your swims. Aim to include a high intensity session, which involves high intensity swimming with rest periods in between. For example, front crawl for 30 seconds followed by 1 minute rest, then repeat.

3. Add in resistance training

Resistance training alongside cardiovascular exercise will support your weight loss. This form of training increases your muscles strength by working against a weight or force. This will increase your lean muscle mass, which creates a higher energy demand on your body, and more calories are expended during rest and exercise. Swimming already adds a form of resistance from the water, but you could also add in some water weights to increase the resistance and build more strength. 

4. Join an aqua aerobic class

There are now a wide range of aqua aerobic classes that you can build within your exercise routine. Not only will this vary your routine and keep it interesting, but is a great way to socialise.

5. Keep a well-balanced diet

It’s important to remember that having a well-balanced diet plays a key role in weight loss. Make sure you continue to focus on your diet being made up of predominantly fresh whole foods, including a variety of complex carbohydrates, enough lean protein, unsaturated fats, and a wide range of fruits and vegetables. 

There are a wide variety of aerobic exercises that you could include within your week, but consistency, duration, and intensity are the most important factors for meeting your fitness and weight loss goals.

If you're interested in taking up swimming to support your health and weight loss, make sure it’s enjoyable and mangeable for you to fit long term within your lifestyle.

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Anna Hayes
Anna Hayes
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