Whenever I watch the olympic games, I’m always amazed at the phsyique of swimmers. If they look so good and trim than swimming must be one of the best forms of exercise for weight loss.
However, despite the general benefits of swimming as a sport which combines strength and aerobic stimulation, it has a reputation as a less effective form of cardio to lose weight.
Is this true? Is swimming for weight loss effective or not?
I watned to find out the answer to this question so I decided to do some reading and go over some of the research which has been done of the subject. I explored various studies which examined swimming in comparison to other forms of exercise and its effect on our body. If you want to know whether swimming is a good choice for you to lose weight with, read this post through.
Swimming To Lose Weight – Research
The first study I found did an interesting comparison between swimming and walking for weight loss and fat reduction in overweight women . It was done by researchers from the University of Utah and was published in 2006. In this study, 38 obese women were divided into 3 groups and each group was given a different form of cardiovascular workout to pursue for 13 weeks. The first group engaged in walking, the second in swimming (with different strokes), and the third walked in a shallow pool.
At the end of the 13 weeks the women were tested for changes in their weight and body fat percentage. No significant differences were found between the various groups. Women from all 3 groups lost a similar number of pounds. This study found that swimming is as effective as walking for weight loss. So far so good. It seemed that swimming has been vindicated.
However, the second study I read was not as positive as the first. In this study, which was published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the weight loss effect of walking, stationary cycling, and swimming were compared .
During the 6 months of the study, the women examined gradually increased their exercise time to 60 minutes. At the end of the study, the weight and body fat of the subjects were recorded. Both the walkers and cyclists lost weight and body fat. The swimmers did not. The differences were big. This study showed that as far as weight loss is concerned, swimming is less effective than land based cardio workouts.
Another study which supported the findings of the previous one was done in Seattle Washington and published in 2005 . This study is important because it examined over 15,000 men and women 53 years of age or more. It studied the long term effect of various forms of exercise on weight gain. As you know, men and women tend to gain weight more easily as they get older so I was very interested in seeing what this study found.
The conclusions of the study were the physical exercise is very important to reduce or avoid weight gain. Particularly, it was found that jogging, fast walking, and cycling was more effective than slow walking and swimming when it cames to reduced weight gain. Again, swimming was found less effective than other cardio routines.
Explaining the Contradiction In the Research
Why is it that the first study I found, showed that swimming is as effective as walking for weight loss while the other two found the exact opposite? The explanation may be due to the temperature of the pool.
An interesting study done at the University of Florida examined the post workout eating habits of swimmers in pools of varying warmth. Particularly, the researchers looked at how swimmers ate after a workout in 33 degrees water (celsius) vs. a workout in 20 degrees (celsius). The study found that the amount of energy used up during the workouts was similar. However, the amount of energy consumed after the workout was 41% higher in those swimmers that swam in the cold pool than it was in those who swam in the warmer one.
In the first study I outlined, the one done in Utah, the temperature of the pool was significantly warmer than that of the pools in the other studies. This may explain the different results. It is not the workout itself that is less effective. It is the post workout eating habits which are different. This is why swimming in cold water is less effective for weight loss than swimming done in warm pools.
Why is Swimming Less Effective For Weight Loss
The reason for the difference between swimming and land based cardio workouts is unclear. Post workout appetite may have something to do with it, or perhaps the body simply retains more fat to help warm it up during the swimming itself. These are all theories and I’ve found no study to adequately explain this difference.
The point of this article was not to suggest that swimming is not a good workout to take part in. I believe it is an excellent workout to help build stamina, strength, and muscles. However, if what you’re looking for is strictly weight loss (or weight maintenance), then other forms of cardio may be better for you at this time.
- Gappmaier E, Lake W, Nelson AG, Fisher AG. Aerobic exercise in water versus walking on land: effects on indices of fat reduction and weight loss of obese women. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2006 Dec;46(4):564-9.
- Gwinup G. Weight loss without dietary restriction: efficacy of different forms of aerobic exercise. Am J Sports Med. 1987 May-Jun;15(3):275-9.
- Littman AJ, Kristal AR, White E. Effects of physical activity intensity, frequency, and activity type on 10-y weight change in middle-aged men and women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2005 May;29(5):524-33.
- White LJ, Dressendorfer RH, Holland E. Increased caloric intake soon after exercise in cold water. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005 Feb;15(1):38-47.