Swimming: Can it help you lose weight?

Author: ANCP  

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for your body, but can it help you to lose weight?  In this article we will look into:

The Benefits of Swimming

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for your body.  It works all of your major muscle groups, specifically your glutes, legs, hips, back, shoulders and abdominals.  Your heart and lungs must work hard to supply all these muscles with oxygen and nutrients, meaning your heart rate and calorie expenditure will rise.  This makes swimming a great cardio workout. What’s more, swimming serves as a mini-resistance workout. 

Water provides multiple times the resistance of air, meaning it can help you to build muscle mass and strength. Muscle is considerably more metabolically active than fat.  Therefore, with more muscle mass, you will burn more calories and fat whilst exercising AND at rest. When immersed in water, you practically become weightless as the water removes gravity’s effect. 

Hence, one of the most praised aspects of swimming is that it is very gentle on your body, placing no stress on your joints.  This makes swimming very attractive to people with injuries, arthritis, osteoporosis or other conditions that render their bones or joints vulnerable to the impact of land-based activities.

A Contentious Issue:  Will swimming help you to lose weight?

Despite all of these benefits, whether swimming will help you to lose weight is quite a contentious issue.  A body of evidence is beginning to suggest that swimming may not assist with fat loss. Gwinup (1987) investigated weight loss in response to walking, cycling and swimming in moderately obese, healthy young women.  The participants’ diets were not restricted. 

After 6 months, the cyclists had lost 12% of their initial weight, the walkers 10% of their initial weight, whilst the swimmers had lost no weight, suggesting that swimming is not effective for fat loss.  More recent research has supported this notion. Several reasons have been proposed for why swimming may not be effective for weight loss.  Possibly the most credible explanation is that swimming, unlike land-based activities like walking and cycling, appears to stimulate appetite and an increase in energy intake. That being said, it shouldn’t mean that you can’t lose weight with swimming- it might just be a bit harder. 

Weight loss requires energy output to be greater than energy input.  So if you watch what you eat and carefully manage your appetite, weight loss should be feasible with swimming.  On that note, you may find it very beneficial to plan and prepare healthy snacks and meals ahead of time, to save your reaching for convenient, unhealthy foods when hunger strikes.

Getting Started

So you plan to go for a swim, but where to start?  Well, swimming is generally safe for most people.  But like before beginning any exercise program, you should consult your GP for a check up to see if there are any reasons to modify your swimming program. Once you have attained the all clear from your doctor, it’s time to get your swimming kit together.  You will need:

  • A comfortable and properly fitting swimming costume;
  • Goggles (to allow you to see underwater and protect your eyes from the stinging chlorine);
  • Ideally a swimming cap (keeps your hair out of your eyes and helps to protect your hair from the chlorine);
  • A towel;
  • A water bottle at the side of the pool.

You may also find ear plugs beneficial if you are prone to ear infections or if you don’t like getting water in your ears. Now when you first hit the pool, try not to be disheartened if you had expected to swim solidly for 30-60 minutes but find yourself hanging off the end of the pool after a few minutes or laps. 

This is completely normal for newcomers to swimming as the cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems must work completely differently in water.  Your lungs must adapt to a different form of breathing as you can’t take a gulp of air whenever you feel. 

Also different to other workouts is that all of your muscles must work to keep you moving and afloat. Try not to worry about this because your endurance will improve with practice, swimming faster and for longer without stopping.  The key is to build up slowly, adding on lap by lap as your fitness builds.  Consistency is also important, so try to fit in three to five swims each week.