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Is Swimming an Aerobic Exercise?

author image Barrett Barlowe
Barrett Barlowe is an award-winning writer and artist specializing in fitness, health, real estate, fine arts, and home and gardening. She is a former professional cook as well as a digital and traditional artist with many major film credits. Barlowe holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and French and a Master of Fine Arts in film animation.
Is Swimming an Aerobic Exercise?
A woman is lap swimming. Photo Credit SolisImages/iStock/Getty Images

You might enjoy swimming laps in a pool or in open water, but wonder about the benefits of your activity. Any physical activity helps improve your quality of life and counters the downside of being behind a desk all day at your job. Joining an adult swim team or just enjoying the camaraderie of fellow lap swimmers keeps you going even when you feel too lazy or busy to work out.

Aerobic Exercise Basics

Aerobic exercise increases your heart and breathing rate and involves the major muscle groups in your body to create motion. Health organizations such as the American Heart Association recommend that you engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise five times a week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, lists swimming as a moderate to intense aerobic activity.

Water Environment

Water adds resistance to your workout. It is denser than air, so all your movements take more effort and more energy under the water than they do on land. The pool environment protects you from gravity, making swimming a low-impact exercise. You increase your heart and lung health and improve muscle tone, yet suffer few joint injuries such as those associated with high-impact sports like running.

Weight Loss

Swimming burns many calories, helps you avoid gaining weight and assists in keeping off weight you have lost. Any form of exercise potentially helps with weight loss, but to lose weight, your diet must consist of fewer calories than you burn off. You burn 744 calories in one hour of fast freestyle lap swimming if you weigh 155 pounds. The number of calories you burn increases to 888 if you weigh 185 pounds, because you use more energy exercising when you weigh more.


Swimming distances is an endurance form of aerobic exercise. You increase cardiovascular fitness and endurance in long workouts. An added advantage of moderate-intensity swimming is that you burn a higher percentage of body fat than you do in intensive sprinting. USA Swimming explains that the body metabolizes fat in addition to its primary fuel source of carbohydrate in the presence of abundant oxygen during low to moderately intense swim sets. Sprinting builds essential heart and lung function as well as explosive power needed for speed.


Because swimming is not a weight-bearing exercise, you do not build up bone strength from swimming alone. Adding resistance training or muscle strengthening to your exercise regimen benefits you when you work out at least two times a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says to target the major muscle groups in your body, including your legs, chest, back and core abdominal muscles. Some of the benefits of weight training include increased bone strength, lean muscle mass and stamina.

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