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Swimming for fitness - Exercise

Picture of a person swimming.
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Swimming is a great form of all-round exercise. It's ideal if you want to be more active and stay healthy, whatever your age or ability.

Regular swimming can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.

It can also boost your mood and keep your weight under control.

If you cannot swim, it's never too late to learn. Most pools cater for a variety of needs and abilities, such as women-only classes, parent-and-toddler groups, and lessons for different age groups.

This guide is designed to make swimming fun and safe for beginners of all ages, and encourage them to stick with it.

Before you start

Do not worry if you're afraid of the water or panic when you think about the deep end. Lessons for beginners focus on building confidence in the water.

A swimming costume or trunks are all you need. If you wish to cover up, most pools allow you to wear whatever swimwear you like, within reason, such as leggings or a close-fitting long-sleeved T-shirt, but it might be a good idea to check with the pool first.

Wearing a pair of goggles is a good idea to avoid the stinging sensation caused by chlorine in the water and to see where you're going under water.

For most people, swimming is a safe and effective form of exercise. If you're worried about an existing health condition, see a GP before you start swimming.

Starting out

The best place to get started is at your local pool. You'll find information on classes for different age groups and levels, women-only sessions, timetables and prices.

Find a pool near you or contact your local authority.

Most pools offer adult-only beginners' lessons, which focus on building confidence in the water and improving your stroke.

If you're unsure about starting lessons, ask if you can watch a class or 2 to get a better idea if it's for you, or ask to speak with 1 of the teachers.

A 30-minute session of moderate to vigorous-intensity activity at the pool on 1 or more days a week will count towards your recommended weekly activity target.

But any improvement on what you currently do is good. Even small changes can make a big difference to your health and make you feel great.

Staying motivated

Make it a habit

Try to set aside time every week to go to the pool, before or after work or on weekends.

Write it in a diary so it becomes a permanent fixture in your weekly schedule.

Consider getting an annual swim pass. This may be more economical and encourage you to go more often.

Take the kids

Swimming is a great way for families to get moving and have fun together. There are so many things that can keep the kids interested, such as inflatable toys.

Swim with a friend

It really helps to go swimming regularly with someone of about the same ability as you.

You'll encourage each other when you're not so keen to go to the pool.

You will not want to let your swimming partner down and this will help motivate you.

Mix it up

The swimming pool makes a great playground and a great gym, even for non-swimmers, with activities such as aquafit.

But learning to swim will introduce you to a whole new world of water-based activities in the pool and beyond.

Join a club

If you enjoy swimming and want to get more involved, consider joining a club.

Clubs are a great way to make new friends, improve your swimming and motivate you to exercise regularly.

Most clubs have a lively social scene away from the pool, with trips and nights out.

Find a swimming club near you

Open water swimming

For competent swimmers, there's a world of swimming opportunities beyond the pool, such as rivers, lakes and the sea.

Open water swimming can be great fun as long as you take the necessary safety precautions.

Avoid swimming alone. Plan your swim: check the water temperature, entry and exit points, currents and tides (where relevant), weather conditions and water cleanliness.

For more information, including a wild swim map, visit the Outdoor Swimming Society.

Page last reviewed: 2 September 2019
Next review due: 2 September 2022