Swimming: Joint-friendly and Good for Your Heart

Swimming is a lower impact way to keep your heart strong
elderly woman swimming in pool

Individuals of various ages, body weights, and health conditions can experience health benefits from swimming. Because performing exercise in water can decrease the impact of body weight on your joints, swimming can be an ideal form of exercise for achieving many goals, ranging from heart health, weight loss, pain management and arthritis management.

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But how do aquatic exercise programs fare in keeping your heart strong? It turns out, swimming can be safely performed if you have a stable heart condition and you’re thinking about cardiac rehabilitation. Erik Van Iterson, PhD, MS, Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation, weighs in.

A good option for heart patients

It’s widely known that swimming is good exercise. Those who regularly swim, even after just a short period of time, can see improvements in:

  • How much blood is pumped out of the heart on a minute-to-minute basis.
  • How your body is able to use the oxygen you breathe from the air.
  • Lower heart rates.
  • Better blood pressure.
  • Improved breathing.
  • Improved circulation.

But research shows swimming is also terrific for your heart — even if you’re currently in cardiac rehabilitation after a major cardiac event like a heart attack or you have heart failure, says Dr. Van Iterson. Even if you’re reluctant to exercise because of your arthritis, swimming and other water activities are easier to get into because they’re easier on your joints.

Dr. Van Iterson says swimming can be well-tolerated by people in and recovering from heart failure or coronary artery disease.

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“Swimming uses multiple body parts with more emphasis on the upper body,” Dr. Van Iterson says. He adds that open-heart surgery patients should not use the pool until all surgical incisions are well healed.

Swimming is easier for reluctant exercisers

Dr. Van Iterson says if you have arthritis and are new to exercise, you’ll likely find swimming can help your heart with much less of a toll on the joints compared to, say, walking on a treadmill or bicycling. And, he adds, other water activities can be beneficial, too.

“It doesn’t just have to be swimming,” says Dr. Van Iterson. “You can take a water aerobics class or water walking in both shallow and deep-water.”

Start small

If you’ve had a major event like a heart attack or heart arrhythmia, it’s okay to start small, and as soon as you can visit your local cardiac rehabilitation center for a proper risk assessment and development of an individualized treatment plan.

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“Even if you’re just a little bit more active,” Dr. Van Iterson says, “it all helps your heart.”

Water Walking: In water that’s about up to your waist, walk across a pool swinging your arms and keeping your back straight. As you increase your strength and endurance, you can add hand webs, which act like weights working with the resistance in the water, or water weights. Or go into deeper water as you’re comfortable.

Water Aerobics: As you increase your tolerance for water exercise, you might enroll in a water aerobics class at your local gym or health facility. The benefits of a class include the camaraderie many find in a class setting. Restrictions due to the coronavirus may limit your ability to join a fitness class at this time, however.

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