Swimming Can Boost Every Woman's Fitness

For those who think a workout means running or aerobics, and a pool is just for play, the women of United States Masters Swimming (USMS) have news for you: Swimming can be a rigorous, effective fitness workout and be fun in the process.

Swimming is not always the fastest way to lose weight, but swimming provides excellent overall conditioning because you use lots of different muscles, as opposed to running, said Jane Moore, M.D., a physician and active USMS swimmer in Tacoma, Wash.

People who consistently swim strenuously enough to be out of breath when they finish, and elevate their heart rate, do burn calories and lose weight. The key is to push yourself a bit.

Putting on a swimsuit, by itself, will encourage you to lose, and keep off, five to 10 pounds, adds Kris Houchens, a USMS swimmer who holds a masters degree in biomechanics from Ball State University.

In addition to helping you strut your stuff in a swimsuit, here are nine ways swimming can benefit your body:

1. Heart helper: With good technique, swimming provides important cardiovascular fitness benefits. Swimmers can brush up on technique by taking adult classes offered by the American Red Cross, local rec centers, YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers, or the Transpersonal Swimming Institute (www.conquerfear.com, 510-526-6000).

2. Keep it lean: Swimming builds long, lean muscles that complement the shorter, bulkier muscles created by activities such as weight training. These long muscles also boost your metabolism to keep burning calories longer.

3. Smooth and supple: Stretching and increasing flexibility is easier in a heated pool, which relaxes muscles, and in the water, which reduces the body weight you feel by 90 percent.

4. Breathe deeply: If you are comfortable with swimming technique and breathing, swimming can be less taxing on lungs than running, because arms, with their smaller muscles, don't require as much oxygen as legs do.

5. Strengthen your core: Swimming builds core body strength by using all of your muscles. While 70 percent of a swimmer's effort comes from the upper body, exercises with kickboards and fins can provide an incredible lower-body workout when done properly.

6. Baby, get back: Swimming strengthens and tones arm, back and shoulder muscles, creating a long, strong, lean upper body.

7. Keep going and going: With proper technique, many swimmers can swim longer than they can sustain other activities, allowing burning of more calories.

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