Power of the Pool: The Benefits of Swimming and Aquatic Physical Therapy


On a hot summer day, there's no better feeling than taking a plunge into the pool. But apart from recreation, spending time in the pool can also have tremendous benefits for your body and is accessible to almost everyone, regardless of age or physical ability. To learn more about the benefits of spending time in the pool, both for exercise and as a means of rehabilitation, we spoke with lifelong swimmer and Sinai Rehabilitation Center physical therapist Laura Gold.

As a form of exercise, swimming offers a host of physical benefits for participants at any level. On the whole, regular swimmers stand to increase their lung capacity, increase their strength, reduce wear and tear on their joints, and much more. One of swimming's most fundamental benefits is its use of the entire body. "You can't choose which muscle group or area of the body you want to do because you're using your whole self when you're swimming," Laura explains. Few other forms of exercise involve the use of the entire body to the extent that swimming does. Couple this with the fact that swimming is also an intensive and highly effective form of cardiovascular exercise, and it's easy to conclude that a good swim can easily constitute a thorough and complete workout. "Physically, it improves your flexibility, it improves your strength, your endurance," says Laura. But swimming's benefits aren't just in its capacity to improve strength and cardiovascular fitness. 

According to Laura, swimming can also significantly improve one's lung capacity over time. Improved lung capacity is a unique advantage offered by regular swimming, one that also lends itself well to other forms of exercise and fitness. And this quality even makes swimming a safe and viable exercise option for those who suffer from breathing conditions. When it comes to conditions affecting breathing, such as asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Laura explains that "there is a level that you can do with swimming and still be safe." 

For those who are new to swimming and wish to learn, Laura strongly recommends swimming lessons. While many tend to associate swimming lessons with childhood, which Laura emphatically assures can be done at any age. Swim lessons will help newcomers with "learning the basics of buoyancy, how to float, how to kick, how to stroke." Learning the fundamentals will serve new swimmers well, providing the opportunity to improve form, learn new strokes and further develop their understanding of the body mechanics at play. 

But, swimming isn't the only way to get exercise in the pool - particularly for patients in physical rehabilitation this aquatic environment offers numerous benefits. "So in rehab, we don't usually swim, but we use the pool as the environment," Laura explains. This practice is known as aquatic physical therapy. One of the reasons, according to Laura, that the pool is such an effective environment for rehabilitation is that "the buoyancy of the water can reduce the load or the weight-bearing of your joints," meaning that patients whose joints cannot tolerate too much weight or impact are still able to exercise and rehabilitate the injured parts of their body. Additionally, both warm and cold water can increase blood flow, a process that can accelerate healing. Other benefits include decreased swelling due to the environment's hydrostatic pressure and water resistance which helps improve strength overall. 

Whether for fun, exercise or rehabilitation, the pool is full of possibilities. To those who are considering taking on swimming or pool exercise as part of their daily routine, Laura notes with encouragement that "it's available on any level. . . it's adaptable. You could be a competitive Olympic swimmer, or you could be just learning how to kick. Anyone can get in the water." 

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