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The benefits of: Swimming

By Brigid Delaney
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- On a Saturday morning, if the sun was out, I'd take a newspaper and a book down to Icebergs pool at Bondi Beach -- read and then do a few lazy laps while the Pacific Ocean churned just outside the lap lane sometimes delivering a walloping wave that would send swimmers sailing into lane ropes.

Swimming -- there's really nothing like it to combine nature, health, fitness, mental clarity and that pure blissed out feeling of lying on your back, floating in the sun.

Of course swimming has its grimmer side. For every Icebergs at Bondi Beach there are a hundred awful municipal pools in whose waters lurk dubious secretions, lethal doses of chlorine and overcrowded lap lanes.

Regardless if your swimming pool is blessed by the sun gods or looks like something from East Germany circa 1980 -- swimming has its health benefits.

Swimming works your whole body, improving cardiovascular conditioning, muscle strength, endurance, posture, and flexibility all at the same time.

Without overworking the heart it improves the body's use of oxygen and increases lung function. It is also recognized as a terrific low impact exercise for those who don't like the effects of jogging on their knees, because while in water you are non weight bearing.

While it's not as much of a calorie burner as say a spin class -- its fantastic for toning -- particularly the upper arms, shoulders and legs. The best strokes for all-over body toning are the freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke.

I've always found the main benefits to swimming have been psychological. Whilst under water you are away from all the noise and distraction of life on the land. The monotony of the strokes up and down the length of the pool have a sort of medititative quality that can be very calming, and of course there is something soothing about being in water.

If you are interested in swimming and you don't know how -- jump on the Internet or look in the phone book and find a qualified swimming instructor. A good way to start is to go down to your local pool and see if they have group exercises in water. These include water aerobics -- with all the benefits of normal aerobics but low impact.

Once you have found a pool that you wish to swim in and an instructor to keep you afloat, develop a fitness routine around your swimming. Aim to get in the water three times a week (try and pick times when the pool is not too crowded) and supplement your swimming routine with walking, aerobics, or social sports such as tennis.

The longer you swim, the more your endurance and speed will improve. Don't push yourself too much to begin with. Its normal to feel puffed out after a couple of laps -- its also normal to be less than graceful and zigzag all over the lane -- until you find your rhythm.

Once you start swimming, you'll find it addictive and your body will be craving to get into the water and get moving. This is because all elements of the body get a workout in water, while the mind enjoys the rest and being at peace. So pick up a towel and a swimsuit and dive in!


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Dive in: Swimming can free the mind and tone the body.

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