Swimming to Lose Weight: Does It Work?

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Is swimming good for weight loss? Some experts point out that swimming doesn’t burn as many calories as running or walking at a brisk pace. But not everyone can tolerate the joint pounding that high-impact exercises inflict on the body, especially older people and those with arthritis. Swimming is an exercise that’s easy on the joints – and it’s mentally relaxing to work out in a sea of warm water and not have to worry about sweating. But is swimming to lose weight really effective?

Swimming to Lose Weight: Is It Effective?

Swimming may actually be better for weight loss than walking or running, at least in older women. According to a study published in Metabolism Clinical and Experimental, older women who swam lost more weight and had better blood sugar levels than those who walked. This makes sense since some older women walk more slowly to avoid aggravating joint problems – and they can move faster in the water without experiencing pain.

But what about younger people? Is swimming good for weight loss in the younger crowd too? If you compare swimming at a moderate pace for thirty minutes to walking briskly at 4 miles per hour for the same period of time, swimming beats walking in terms of calories burned. Thirty minutes of moderate swimming burns 206 calories, while brisk walking burns only 176.

The problem is swimming stimulates some people’s appetite. According to a study published in the Journal of Obesity, swimming reduces appetite while a person is doing it, but it boosts it for several hours after a workout. If you eat more after a workout than you normally would, this can easily undo the calorie-burning benefits of swimming.

What about running? Running at a speed of 6 miles per hour for thirty minutes burns 342 calories, which is 40% more than you’ll burn swimming. So clearly, running is better for weight loss compared to swimming.

Is Swimming Good for Weight Loss: The Bottom Line?

Older women may get more weight loss benefits from swimming, especially if they have to walk slowly due to joint issues. For younger people, running and walking briskly burns more calories than swimming, so it’s more effective for losing weight especially if swimming increases your appetite.

The best plan may be to combine swimming with running or brisk walking to get more variety, reduce boredom and avoid the plateau that happens when the body adapts to one form of exercise. Swimming is a good cardiovascular exercise if you do it at least thirty minutes. But watch how much you eat when you get out of the water.


Fitness Prescription. April 2011. Page 26.
Metabolism Clinical and Experimental. 59: 1562-1573. 2011.
Journal of Obesity. Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 351628, 8 pages.

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