Doctors agree: Whatever your age or ability, swimming is a wonderful exercise for improving fitness. Low-impact and enjoyable, swimming achieves all the benefits of a gym workout—flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac fitness and endurance—without putting stress on your joints. Your muscles, heart and lungs get a great workout, as you gradually boost your oxygen intake and the amount of blood your heart can pump with each beat. With a sufficiently vigorous routine, you can also burn a lot of calories, say the experts, up to about 250 in 20 minutes.
The buoyancy of water also makes swimming the ideal activity if you have arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis. As the water essentially carries your body weight, swimming can help you achieve greater range of motion, improved circulation, and greater muscle strength—while reducing joint pain, stiffness, and relaxing sore muscles.
The temperature of the water is another important consideration. Swimming in water that’s too cold causes you to lose too much body heat, while water that’s too warm overheats you. Either way, you’re stressing your cardiovascular system. For ordinary swimming, most people are comfortable at around 81 to 82 degrees, and some like their pool as high as 86 degrees.
Therapy pools, with temperatures of 92 to 98 degrees, are fine for limited movement but are too warm for swimming. If you are swimming or doing water exercises to help your arthritis, your doctor and physical therapist can advise what temperatures and routines are best for you. The type of exercise will vary depending on what joints are involved, their stability, the amount of inflammation, and whether you’ve had a joint replacement. As for pool temperatures, they should feel soothing and comfortable, but not hot.More from a Pool Builder's Guide to swimming for health next time.