Different Strokes for Different Folks

72 percent of the Earth’s surface is water. Meanwhile, 75 percent of the human brain is water. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that so many of us have swimming on our minds.

In fact, swimming is America’s second most popular exercise activity—with approximately 360 million annual visits to recreational water venues—ranking behind only walking. (Of course, if you opt for walking to the beach or pool, well…fitness just can’t get more all-American than that, can it?)

Besides the obvious allures—spending time at the pool is fun and a great way to keep cool in the warmer weather—there are many documented reasons why swimming is an excellent way to increase your overall physical conditioning.

Benefits of Swimming:
• It’s super efficient. A regular swimming regimen will both increase cardiovascular endurance and build muscle mass.
• Unlike running, most sports, and even walking, swimming is truly low-impact which means much less wear and tear on the joints
• Studies have shown that swimming can burn from 500 to 650 calories per hour. Interestingly, those without a smooth swimming stroke may burn more calories thanks to all that undignified flopping around.
• It’s fun for all ages…literally. As a lifestyle choice, swimming is remarkably durable as it can be performed effectively by pre-schoolers and maintained well into your senior citizen years.
• Swimming offers challenging variety of stroke options: Breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle.

In general, the breaststroke and butterfly are more advanced and thus, not recommended for beginners. Most folks start with—and stick with—freestyle. Also known as the “crawl,” the freestyle stroke has you alternating pulling with your arms and timing your breath along with your strokes. Turning your head to the side on which you are pulling as you finish the stroke enables you to breathe when your mouth is out of the water.

As for the backstroke, you may wish to keep the following three points in mind: Move each arm with equal force—not only for the fitness value but also to ensure that you stay within your lane; as you execute each stroke, be sure that your body rolls from side to side. Such a motion allows your arms to “catch” enough water to keep you churning forward; because the backstroke is the only stroke in which your head always remains out of the water and your breaths are not specifically coordinated with your body movements, allow yourself to find the breathing pattern that works best for you.

With 1 in 5 American children currently obese, it should be obvious why it makes sense to encourage the younger generation to get in the pool on a regular basis. However, there are other powerful reasons to get your kids swimming. The Centers for Disease Control found that thanks to the natural buoyancy of the water, swimming can be more relaxing than other forms of exercises and thus improve overall mood and help battle depression.

Then there’s the crucial issue of safety. The second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 5 and 24 is drowning. “By teaching your child to swim, he will not only become a stronger swimmer, but also gain valuable experience in the water,” writes Melissa Hopkins at Livestrong.com. “This experience greatly reduces the risk of an emergency if your child accidentally falls in an unguarded pool or gets pulled into deep water by a rip current at the beach.”

TIP: If caught in rip currents, relax and swim toward the shore at a 45-degree angle until you are free of the current. If you are not able to swim out of the currents, call or wave for help.