Swimming’s fat-burning, muscle-toning and mood-boosting benefits make it a great full-body aerobic activity, but how does it support our gut? The Gut Choice reveals all
Breaststroke, butterfly, front crawl, doggy paddle and backstroke — however you prefer to make a splash, many of us will have experienced the soothing mental and energising physical benefits of taking a dip on holiday.
Good for both body and mind, could swimming be beneficial for our gut also? Recent research confirms when done routinely, it can burn belly fat. Not only that, it is one of the only exercises that uses virtually every muscle in the body, so it will tone your tummy too! What’s more, its calming effect inevitably regulates digestion.
But at a time of year when we tend to hang up our running shoes and head inside, it doesn’t mean you have to forego enjoyable exercise. And the end of summer doesn’t mean you have to ditch your pool time. Here are seven ‘gut’ reasons why you’ll be adding indoor swimming to your exercise regime this season.
Aids mental health and eases digestion
Just the thought of my arms and legs gently gliding through water conjures blissful holiday memories. As we have established, swimming can be beneficial for our mental wellbeing, whether it’s for enjoyment or to get fit. Not only can it quieten our mind, but according to wellness expert mindbodygreen, it can also increase positivity levels through boosting endorphins and help us in a similar way to meditation.
They claim: “Without having to focus on other gym members, swimming allows you to focus on simply your strokes and breathing, effectively ‘drowning’ out static thoughts.”
Plus, the combination of rhythmic strokes and the sound of water makes swimming much more relaxing compared to other exercises, they add. And a calm mind = a calm tummy.
Relaxes a tense tummy
If we are feeling stressed, we can hold a lot of tension in our core without necessarily realising. Similar to the “ahhh” we find ourselves saying when sinking into a hot bubble bath, the warmth from a heated swimming pool can help your muscles to relax and to let go of any tightness in your tummy.
“Many swimmers say [the activity] eases aches and pains,” claim international swimwear brand Speedo.
They explain everyone should make time for swimming for this reason. I’ll happily slide into a giant bath any day. Who’s with me?
Chlorine assists gut bacteria
Surprisingly, chlorine isn’t just in pools to kill germs when a kid decides they can’t make it to the toilet. Not only does it do an incredible job at this, but it could be helping your gut bacteria too! As a naturally occurring element, chlorine forms an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial compound called hypochlorous acid when dissolved in water which has the power to kill harmful bacteria, explain health specialists Well+Good. And no matter how hard we try, most of us end up with a mouthful during a swimming session. Experts are not at all suggesting we start gulping gallons of the stuff next time we visit the baths as it hasn’t been determined how much chlorine could also kill good bacteria in the gut. So, although, you don’t need to worry if a little chlorine creeps into your system, perhaps don’t start replacing your afternoon cuppa with a glass of chlorine. (And just try to avoid accidentally swallowing water in the shallow end near the children.)
Head to the pool and you’ll be rewarded with a restful night’s sleep. According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, people who do regular exercise, such as swimming, are twice as likely to enjoy a good night’s sleep. They are also less likely to suffer from insomnia or wake early. And if you read our recent post about the benefits of pumpkin, then you’ll know serotonin — released in the body as a result of exercise — encourages good quality sleep and improved mood. The gut-brain connection means this is essential for a healthy gut. I go swimming every Thursday and nine times out of 10, I sleep well afterwards even if I have a busy day ahead.
Tones your tummy
Want to get one step closer to those abs? Swimming could help you do just that.
mindbodygreen explain: “Water is 12 times denser than air, making swimming more effective at toning your muscles than any other form of aerobic exercise.
“Swimming provides a certain degree of water resistance, which acts very much like weights do at the gym. The amount of resistance is relative to how hard you are pushing against the water.”
You can also do specific tummy-toning exercises in the water. Breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke all engage your core, but for next level results Speedo recommend water bicycle crunches. Simply, place your back against the wall, stretching your arms along the pool edge, then begin to move your legs as if you were pedalling a bicycle. They suggest doing this for 30 seconds initially. This is my favourite thing to do as an active recovery in between lengths.
Soothing for an unsettled stomach
Having an upset stomach or abdominal pains can take a lot out of us and leave us feeling slightly drained. The last thing we feel like doing when we’re trying to build back up is intense exercise. This is where swimming comes in as it puts less strain on your body if you are feeling delicate.
“Swimming is one of the few sports that does not cause stress to the skeletal system,” explain mindbodygreen.
Plus, you can go at your own pace. Just make sure to drink plenty of water in between lengths to stay hydrated. “No pain, no gain” is not necessarily true with this sport.
It has been said that the exercise can help us to work on our breathing and make it much easier to breathe. mindbodygreen claim this is due to the high moisture levels in the atmosphere surrounding pools which can be particularly beneficial for asthma sufferers.
Even if you don’t have a breathing condition, they suggest swimming can encourage you to learn proper breathing techniques and even increase your lung capacity.
And breathing properly is essential for regulating processes in the body including digestion. This is because it helps to reduce stress which is a major cause of gastrointestinal discomfort. So take a deep breath and swim — probably best when your head is not facing the water though.
Want to talk all things swimming? Get in touch.