All of the benefits of swimming are available to open water swimmers, and some swimmers claim that there are additional benefits to swimming outdoors, especially in cold weather. Swimming in general has significant cardiovascular benefits, and open water swimming often adds different levels of resistance and intensity. Before embarking on an open water swimming program, however, it is advisable to discuss it with a doctor, as there are some risks.
Swimming gets the heart rate up and is an excellent form of cardiac conditioning. It also increases muscle strength and provides stamina benefits. Regular swimming, especially over long distances, can make people stronger and more fit. Athletes may use swimming as a cross training tool to develop stamina and vary their exercise routines.
This form of exercise also does not create impact stress like running, aerobics, and other land-based exercise can. Swimming is easier on the bones and joints and this contributes to the conditioning effects of swimming. Open water swimming, where people swim in outdoor bodies of water like rivers, lakes, and oceans, provides all of these benefits. In addition, open water often has currents that can provide resistance. This will increase muscle strength and tone.
Some people refer to open water swimming as cold water swimming, referencing the fact that open bodies of water are not temperature controlled like pools, and thus can become quite cold. Proponents believe that regular swimming in cold water conditions the body, improving circulation and boosting the immune system. Studies conducted on open water swimmers do seem to support the idea that being acclimated to cold water does provide some health benefits.
Open water swimming is part of the triathlon, an athletic event that combines biking, running, and swimming. There are also standalone swimming events. Both are offered in a variety of intensities and lengths for people at different levels of physical fitness. Preparing for a swim meet or triathlon can be a good way to set a fitness goal and get in shape.
People interested in open water swimming should keep a few safety tips in mind. Swimming with a buddy is strongly recommended. In addition, people should not plunge right into cold water swimming. Individuals who are not acclimated to cold water can severely injure themselves; there are risks of heart attack and inhaling water in shock from the cold. It's advisable to start by swimming in temperate waters in warm months and to slowly condition the body for cold. On cold water swims, warm garments should be available to change into immediately after swimming.