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Swimming Effects on the Cardiovascular System

author image Kathryn Vera
Kathryn Vera holds a master's degree in exercise physiology, as well as licensure as a Registered Dietitian. Currently, she works as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation, where she provides care to patients living with chronic heart disease.
Swimming Effects on the Cardiovascular System
Swimming can improve heart contractility, leading to greater cardiac output. Photo Credit George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Swimming is a form of aerobic exercise that aids in the improvement of strength, flexibility, balance and coordination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swimming has been found to be especially effective when it comes to promoting improvements in the cardiovascular system. In fact, swimming on a regular basis can improve heart contractility, decrease blood pressure, lower heart rate and improve lung efficiency. To achieve these results, swimmers should aim for 150 minutes of exercise each week.

Improved Heart Contractility

As suggested by the name, heart contractility refers to the ability of the cardiac muscle to squeeze and relax, thus pumping blood and oxygen from the heart to other parts of the body. As heart contractility improves, blood and oxygen supply increases, making it easier to perform everyday tasks. The American Council on Exercise reports that as with other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming is highly beneficial in improving heart contractility. As swimming is a non-weight bearing exercise, those with joint issues can tolerate higher-intensity water-based forms of activity and may be able to promote greater improvements in contractility.

Decreased Blood Pressure

When the body is in a perpendicular position -- such as during walking, hiking or biking -- the heart must work hard to pump blood and oxygen to and from the lower extremities. This increased demand on the heart leads to spikes in blood pressure, some of which can be concerning. The American College of Sports Medicine states that swimming is an effective exercise, in that it stresses the cardiovascular system without causing major increases in blood pressure. Since the body is in a horizontal position during a swim, the heart does not have to work as hard, thus helping to keep blood pressure in check.

Lowered Heart Rate

As with other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming can be an effective way to lower resting heart rates. A low resting heart rate generally correlates to less work on the cardiac muscle, which can be effective in the prevention of certain types of heart disease. Swimming not only results in lowered resting heart rates, but may also actually lead to drops in heart rate during exercise. The American Council on Exercise says that these drops in activity-related heart rate can allow the body to perform even greater levels of work, with less stress on the cardiac muscle.

Increased Lung Efficiency

The lungs -- another component of the cardiovascular system -- can also benefit significantly from participating in a regular swimming routine. In fact, swimming helps to increase the size and efficiency of the diaphragm, leading to improvements in respiration. In addition, swimming has been found to lead to increases in the number of capillaries, which are crucial in the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream. When combined, all of these improvements correlate to improve oxygen uptake, distribution and utilization by the body.

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