Swim, swim, swim

You may have noticed that my summer workout schedule includes swimming twice a week. I added it because I wanted to be intentional about including more “fun activities” in my workout routine. That’s also why I’m having Evan teach me how to play tennis and I’m considering getting a little beach volleyball team going.

It also turns out that it’s an amazing way to lose weight. Here are the benefits:

It’s therapeutic. I’ve had a sore shoulder all week and my back was stiff yesterday. After swimming, I felt good as new. When I was done my laps, I did some stretches in the pool. The water and buoyancy really helps get a good stretch going.

It’s incredibly relaxing. Aside from the time that my lanemate inadvertantly made a tsunami that invaded my sinuses, being in the water was a great stress-reliever. It must have to do with being weightless. I also know I’m a little strange like this, but I love the smell of chlorine. It reminds me of taking swim lessons at the YMCA as a kid or of spending summers at my grandparents’ house.

You burn a lot of calories. A 150lb woman can burn 270 calories swimming at a moderate pace for a half hour.

It’s a resistance workout too. I do all of my strokes and kicks under water as it makes for a better resistance workout. I find that I get just as good–if not better–shoulder and arm definition with swimming as I do with weights. I’m also one of those geeks who does water walking. It burns twice as many calories as walking on solid ground, thanks to the added resistance of water.

There are some downsides to swimming. A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that those who followed a diet and exercise program with swimming gained 5 lbs, compared to those who used walking (17lbs) and cycling (19lbs) as their main form of exercise. One of the professors theorized that swimming in cold water increases the appetite. Another study looked into this and found although swimmer’s appetite changed according to how cold or warm the water was, their calorie burn was similar. Essentially, colder water doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll burn more calories trying to stay warm. Thanks, modern evolution FAIL. Supposedly, the appetite is suppressed as the body increases temperature, which is why we tend not to be very hungry during heat waves, when we have a fever or after an intense outdoor (non-pool!) workout. In cold conditions, our appetite increases. This is probably so we could build our winter fat stores and stay warm. Unfortunately, we don’t really need that little Darwinian perk anymore. Someone send him a memo.

Still… we can control this. Plan your swim around your meal times and eat carefully portioned servings with an adequate balance of protein, fiber and fat. Yes, you need healthy fats. Drink lots of water. Remind yourself that being really hungry after a swim is just a mind game–swimming hasn’t starved you of all nutrients and calories. I also specifically chose to swim at night. By the time I start noticing an increased appetite, I’m tired and on my way to gym. It’s easier to avoid consuming extra calories that way. If I did a morning swim or a lunchtime swim, I’d have to return to my desk at work and the munchies would probably kill my resolve and sanity.

A close family friend has lost more than 75 lbs with Weight Watchers, walking and, you guessed it–swimming. This week, I’m down 3 lbs. While some of my loss is due to being religious about logging what I eat and maintaining an appropriate calorie balance, the biggest drop in my weight came after last night’s swim session. (And, if anything, it should have been higher thanks to the sodium-packed lunch I had at Panera yesterday.)

So, get going! Find a local pool and start polishing off your backstroke. There’s no better way to beat the heat in the summer AND fit in a good workout.


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