Swimming under the microscope of science

Scientific study results on the effect of swimming on the human body


In a few days, on 23 July, is the 186th anniversary of the first swimming school in the world, which was founded in Boston USA. In the midst of the summer and just before our prolonged trip to the beach, “Epikaira” discusses with experts and presents the latest scientific studies on the benefits of swimming. Health benefits: “Frequent swimming, as well as other forms of mild exercise (walking, cycling) contributes to the prevention of and rehabilitation after cardiovascular diseases,” notes interventional cardiologist and former director of the Cardiology Department of the General Hospital of Athens “G. Gennimatas” Antonios D. Vrachatis. It is worth noting that, based on a research conducted at the University of Texas, swimming benefits elderly people by lowering their blood pressure and improving the function of their blood vessels. Mr Vrachatis stresses that “besides lowering the blood pressure, swimming increases the protective ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, reduces body weight and insulin resistance and increases the antithrombotic and antiarrhythmic activity as well as the collateral circulation. Thanks to buoyancy and the reduction of body weight, even patients with heart failure can exercise in the water.”

In addition, swimming benefits patients with diseases of the spine, such as spondiloarthritis, intervertebral disc herniation, osteoporosis and scoliosis. Rehabilitation physician Evangelos Manavelas points out that “swimming strengthens the muscles of the whole body, as they all exercise simultaneously. Moreover, it increases flexibility ― particularly to patients with spondiloarthritis ―and as it is a mild type of exercise thanks to buoyancy, it protects joints, bones and muscles. Lastly, aerobic exercise in the water reduces stress and sympathetic pain. “

Regarding infants, there are numerous scientific studies which have showed that swimming is beneficial for their health. A specific study conducted by the Medicine school of the University of Tasmania in Australia reveals that children who suffer from asthma can enhance their physical condition, as well as their heart and lung function.

During his discussion with “Epikaira”, pediatrician Kostas Kommatas noted that “children with bronchial asthma, who often avoid other sports, should be encouraged to do swimming, as it gradually strengthens their respiratory muscles and increases their self-confidence”. He added that “it is easy to see why swimming contributes to children’s health. First of all, the body becomes lighter inside the water, so the smooth pressure exercises evenly all the joints. It also protects them from accidents, while the constant movement of the body (which becomes more intensive when appropriate) strengthens the cardiovascular and respiratory system”.

A study of significant interest, which was conducted by the Griffith Institute for Educational Research, reveals the important effects of swimming, not only on health, but also on the cognitive skills of children. When children start swimming at an early age, they tend to develop their cognitive and language skills faster than children of the same age who don’t swim. More specifically, it has been proven that swimmers have better performance in oral expression, reading, counting and drawing lines and shapes. “Children who participate in learn-through-play programmes (i.e. baby swimming programmes for infants from four months to four years old) become more intelligent, as they perform combination exercises (e.g. moving the right hand with left leg) that enhance the exchange of information between the two brain hemispheres. Thus, children develop a more intelligent and creative way of thinking,” explains the professor of physical education and programme manager of Ichtheis Baby Swimming, Nikolas Hatzigiakoumis. He also tells us that “many parents have seen psychological improvement in their children. They are healthier, thus happier. Through swimming they learn how to set goals (for example, perform a specific exercise) fight to achieve them and at the end succeed, something that reinforces significantly their self-esteem and their sense of independence. Also, interacting with other children at such a young age makes them more social.”

Swimming and muscle mass

During a study conducted by the Department of Kinesiology at the Indiana University in USA, scientists compared swimmers with other types of athletes aged from 20 to 88 years old. It was found that swimmers had in all cases a higher percentage of muscle mass.

Did you know that 93% of Greek waters are ideal for swimming? According to the 2013 Annual Report of the European Environment Agency, 93% of bathing sites in Greece meet the minimum water quality standards, exceeding the average of the European Union. Additionally, water quality is excellent at 78% of the sites.

Precautions in order to avoid danger when swimming

Interventional cardiologist and former director of the Cardiology Department at the General Hospital of Athens, Antonios Vrachatis says that “swimming (and training in general) is not a panacea, thus it is necessary to take some precautions so that it does not become dangerous instead of beneficial and pleasant. Simple symptoms, such as dizziness, vomiting or even a cramp while being in the water, can cause drowning. Thus patients with a heart condition, especially those who are under hypotensive or antiarrhythmic medication, should not swim alone or right after eating. When the water is cold, they should enter gradually, as there is a risk of coronary spasm and they should avoid going to isolated beaches that are difficult to access and thus expose themselves to high temperatures during the summer.