Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise and has additional benefits in relieving and often preventing some of the age-related changes in the body. Although it requires access to a pool, a 20 minute swimming session at least 3 times a week can make a significant difference in overall health and wellbeing. Swimming has both cardiovascular and weight training benefits, both of which are important for different purposes. It burns twice as much calories as walking, reduces the impact on joints and works out more muscle groups at once than almost any other form of physical activity. These are important factors to consider for the elderly who face a host of changes in their body which can reduce mobility, affect physical strength and lead to chronic pain.
With advancing age, there is a gradual loss of muscle mass. This is a normal process related to age and further compounded by the fact that the elderly are often more sedentary than younger adults. The loss of muscle mass reduces physical strength and can make even everyday tasks a bit more difficult. Swimming exercises most muscle groups in the body simultaneously thereby slowing down or even preventing age-related muscle loss. The resistance offered by water increases the workload on muscles thereby assisting in preventing muscle loss in much the same way as weight training.
The weakening of the bone as a result of loss of bone mineral density is a slow process in the elderly. Sometimes it can be very severe with conditions like osteoporosis leading to weak bones that can fracture easily. In these instances, the fractures do not heal rapidly or completely. Bone strength is maintained by the degree of force on it. The greater the force, the stronger the bone. Gravity is one such force that can improve bone strength but the action of the muscles as it contracts and relaxes also applies force on the bones. Swimming, with its constant need for muscle action, can therefore help with bone strength.
The cartilage lining the joints gradually degrades with age. Sometimes this degradation can be severe and even extend to the ends of the bone that are normally covered by the joint cartilage. This condition is known as osteoarthritis and is common in the elderly. Exercising is difficult with osteoarthritis as activities such as walking and jogging increases the force on the joints. It further contributes to the cartilage breakdown and leads to severe joint pains. With swimming this stress on the joints are largely removed due to the buoyancy in water. Therefore one can still attain the benefits of exercise without the joint strain.
It is a well known fact that the heart and blood vessels are healthier in a person who exercises regularly. With advancing age, and coupled with conditions such as high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure which is common in the senior years, the heart and blood vessels are under greater stress. This can lead to gradual narrowing and eventually complete blockages as is seen in a heart attack and stroke. Swimming is a very effective form of cardiovascular exercise, raising heart function for a period of time and reducing the buildup of plaques on vessel walls. It also helps with weight loss which has additional benefits on the heart and blood vessels. Ultimately this helps in preventing life-threatening conditions which if not fatal, are usually permanently debilitating in the elderly.