|Written by: Galina PembrokeAfter a long day at the office, exercise just feels like more work. It’s far more tempting to stretch across the sofa, draw the shades, and relax. What if you could cool off and calm down as you firm up? An evening swim offers these conditions, plus some other surprising benefits. AMERICAN FITNESS magazine reports that swimming is the best sport to help you stop smoking. Dr. Philip Whitten, author of The Complete Book of Swimming, studied the smoking habits of 162 master swimmers, 25% of which were smokers. After taking up swimming, only 3% still smoked. Plus, those who continued to smoke cut down dramatically. After repeated dips in the pool, the craving for cigarettes vanished. “I didn’t particularly try to stop smoking when I started swimming,” says one 42-year old participant. “I hurt my knee in college and swimming was just a way to help keep my weight down without applying stress on my knee. But after a few months, I just didn’t seem to need to smoke anymore. No withdrawal pains, nothing.”
Smoking isn’t the only problem swimming can alleviate. Like other aerobic exercises, wading in the water helps lower high-blood pressure. Aqua-exercise has been proven to be less strenuous than land-based fitness, especially for your heart. Why? Cool water relaxes your heart rate. In fact, your pulse will be up to 17 beats-per-minute slower in water than during land exercise. This pseudo-pulse may trick you into thinking you aren’t exercising hard enough. Pay attention to your own body. If you feel fatigued, go with the flow and take a rest, or stop altogether.
As our smoke-free friend testifies, swimming is an injury-friendly exercise. Yet even without an “injury” we all have aches and pains. Often, these are ignored, but after the stresses of the day are forgotten, our muscles remember them. Sitting for long hours at a desk can be hard labor. Leaning over as we type makes both mid- and upper-back tense. Even at leisure, as we lean back and cross our legs, we are throwing our spine out of alignment. Bathing in the deep blue can help. The Arthritis Foundation states: “soaking in water allows muscles to become relaxed, which enables one to perform a wider range of motions and exercises, and to carry out daily tasks with less pain and strain.” Water’s gentle caresses function like a massage for the entire body. As anyone who has enlisted a masseuse knows, when muscles relax it’s easy for the mind to follow.
Often overlooked in summer, but also helpful for year-round health, is the sauna. Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Spontaneous Healing, says that because a sauna encourages sweating “it helps the body rid itself of unwanted materials and improves general circulation.” Fascinated by its effects on circulation, Japanese researchers are trying to draw a connection between sauna use and longevity. Chuwa Tei of Kagoshima University, Japan, proposes that the blood-pumping benefits of saunas may even extend patients’ lives. Earlier this year, he reported that hamsters with heart failure who were regularly put into a heated sauna live longer than hamsters placed in a sauna that wasn’t turned on. Tei also recruited human “guinea pigs” for a similar study. After a fifteen minute sauna-session, some had signs of lowered blood pressure. However, the sauna is not all benefits and no risks. In order to sauna safely; it’s best to take advantage of these tips:
- According to Dr. Weil: “the main risk of sauna is staying in too long and fainting from overheating. People who are most susceptible to this are those with heart disease or who have been using drugs or alcohol.”
- American dermatologist Dr. Debra Luftman states: “If you have rosacea, eczema or sensitive skin, it’s best to steer clear of saunas and steam, because they can aggravate your skin condition.”
- Food and Fitness: A Dictionary of Diet and Exercise, by Michael Kent notes: “physicians advise against taking very hot saunas immediately after a hard training session.
Tip: Use a blow-dryer to prevent swimmer’s ear. Use a low setting, and hold the dryer at arm’s length from each ear.