Vaishnavi Srinath/PSU Vanguard

Surprising benefits of swimming

Low-impact, full-body workout perfect for student life

When it comes to choosing an exercise regimen, the options are endless. From running and cycling to weightlifting and yoga, each exercise has its own benefits and challenges. However, there’s one form of exercise that stands out for its versatility, accessibility and wide-ranging benefits: swimming.


As a full-body workout that is low-impact and highly effective, swimming offers a unique blend of physical and mental health advantages. It is also considered the sport with the most profound and superior effect on the lungs.


One of the most compelling reasons to take up swimming is its ability to provide a comprehensive workout. Unlike many land-based exercises that target specific muscle groups, swimming engages nearly every part of your body. “Swimming is a full-body workout,” said Atlee Elloway, head lifeguard at Portland State’s Campus Recreation Center. “Staying afloat and in-motion requires activation of the arms, shoulders, core, hips and legs.” This comprehensive engagement builds overall strength and endurance and enhances cardiovascular health.


Eric Ziegler—a PSU alumnus and commercial real estate manager—highlighted the versatility of swimming in complementing other forms of exercise. “It coordinates really well with weight training and running,” he said. “It’s nice to not have all that impact, especially as you get older.”


One of the standout features of swimming is its low-impact nature, which significantly reduces the risk of injury. This particularly benefits individuals with joint issues or those recovering from injuries. Samantha Schmitz—aquatics and safety coordinator at Campus Rec—emphasized this advantage. “Swimming, being in the water, takes the weight off your body,” she said. “You’re less likely to get the injuries you might see with running or weightlifting.”


For students with conditions such as arthritis, the buoyancy of water offers a form of exercise that minimizes joint stress while still providing significant health benefits. “You’re able to do similar exercises such as lunges or knee raises at almost 70% less of your body weight,” Schmitz said. This makes swimming an excellent option for maintaining fitness without exacerbating joint pain.


Beyond the physical advantages, swimming also offers substantial mental health benefits. The rhythmic nature of swimming can be incredibly calming, providing a form of meditation in motion. “There is a sense of calm serenity that comes with being underwater,” Elloway said. This unique environment allows swimmers to focus inward, reducing stress and promoting mental clarity.


Ziegler agreed, emphasizing the mental lift swimming offers after a workout. “After swimming, you feel amazing,” Ziegler said. “You can think clearly and solve problems more effectively.” This mental clarity and reduction in stress are particularly valuable for students, who often juggle demanding academic schedules and personal commitments.


Swimming can also bolster your immune system, particularly when done in colder water. Cold water immersion has been shown to have a range of health benefits, including enhanced immune function. 


Schmitz explained swimming in cold water can help regulate your respiratory rate and improve your body’s ability to handle stress—both of which are critical for overall health. “While you’re exercising in the cold water, even though you are sweating, you’re not going to feel like you’re getting overheated,” Schmitz said. This makes swimming an invigorating way to boost your immune system without the discomfort often associated with intense workouts.


One of the most significant advantages of swimming is its accessibility. Unlike many forms of exercise which require expensive equipment or specific physical conditions, swimming is accessible to almost everyone. 


Elloway pointed out that swimming is especially beneficial for injured or disabled individuals who may be unable to participate in other forms of exercise. “Being in the water provides support for movements and reduces the impact on joints and natural gravity,” Elloway said. This inclusivity makes swimming a practical option for a wide range of fitness levels and physical abilities.


Swimming is not just an individual activity, it can also be social. Campus Rec offers a variety of swimming programs and facilities which encourage community engagement. “We have our adult swim clinics for anyone who maybe has never swam before and wants lessons or has swam and wants some further help on their stroke,” Schmitz said. These programs provide opportunities for students to learn, improve and connect with others in a supportive environment.


Additionally, swimming pools often serve as communal spaces where students can unwind and socialize. The presence of amenities such as hot tubs and spas adds to the appeal, offering a place to relax and decompress—especially during stressful times such as finals. “Even if you’re not exercising, that can be a really nice way mentally to come and decompress in the hot tub,” Schmitz said.


Swimming is an exercise which can be sustained throughout one’s life. Unlike high-impact sports which may become more challenging with age, swimming remains a viable option for maintaining health and fitness well into the later years. A study published by the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation shows that regular swimming effectively improves middle-aged womens’ physical composition, physical strength and blood lipids.


For students at PSU, Campus Rec offers a wealth of opportunities to integrate swimming into their fitness routines. From swim clinics to exercise programs such as Swim X, there are numerous ways to get involved and reap the benefits of this comprehensive exercise. Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn the basics or an experienced swimmer aiming to enhance your technique, the resources available on campus can support your journey.


Swimming stands out as an exceptional form of exercise which combines physical, mental and social benefits in a low-impact, accessible package. 


With swimming, you can not only enjoy a dip in the pool, but can also tone your stomach and strengthen your core. Whether you’re looking to build strength, improve cardiovascular health or find a peaceful escape from the stresses of student life, swimming offers a unique and effective solution.