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Swimming for heart health, from the February 2016 Harvard Heart Letter

February 1, 2016

For many people, walking is an ideal exercise. But those with achy knees or sore hips may find it uncomfortable. And in some parts of the country, harsh winter weather can make walking outdoors unpleasant, even treacherous at times. A water workout in a warm indoor pool may be an appealing alternative that's also good for the heart, reports the February 2016 Harvard Heart Letter.

Relatively few people swim on a regular basis, so large studies looking at the benefits of physical activity in relation to cardiovascular health have tended to lump swimming together with other types of exercise. Plenty of evidence points to lower rates of heart disease among people who do regular, moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise — and swimming laps definitely fits the bill.

"Recreational swimming will burn about the same calories as brisk walking," says I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies the role of physical activity in disease prevention. One key advantage to swimming is that water makes people buoyant, which takes stress off the joints. That can be especially helpful for people who are carrying excess weight, she explains.

Water also offers resistance, which allows people to work out vigorously (if they're able) with little chance of injury. Swimming laps can also be relaxing and meditative, which may offer some stress relief, adding to its cardiovascular benefits. Finally, swimming is an activity that people of all ages can do.

People who don't like doing laps can try walking or running in water, or doing water aerobics, which is a set of exercises done in waist-deep or higher water that may also use floating devices and weights. Many community centers, YMCAs, and other facilities with pools offer these classes.

Read the full article: "Exercising in water: Big heart benefits and little downside"

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As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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