Swimming or walking, which is the better exercise?

There has been a lot of debate as to which exercise is best for us. As we age we are advised to undertake weight-bearing exercise to keep our bones and muscles strong. Swimming however confers other benefits including a sense of improved well-being as well as increased cardiovascular fitness and flexibility.

Dr. Norman Swan is one of my favourite medical reporters and I always enjoy listening to his “Health Reports” on ABC radio. I haven’t told him yet, but I would actually like his job, especially in being able to report the latest findings of significance to improve our brain health.

This week on the Health Report, reporter Tegan Phillips discussed the findings from a study by Dr Kay Cox from UWA and Royal Perth Hospital to clarify which form of exercise we should follow.
In this study a group of women in their fifties, who were non exercisers were divided into two groups. They both had to exercise for between 40 to 60 minutes four times a week using either swimming or walking. The effect on their body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin and glucose were measured. Over the course of a year, health benefits were noticed in both groups but there were additional benefits found for the swimming group.

Women in their fifties who have reached menopause or who are peri-menopausal may also have other health ailments staring to be a nuisance including joint stiffness and arthritis. The swimming group found that being in the water increased their overall flexibility and they were also able to enjoy exercising in a non weight-bearing environment that was more difficult for some in the walking group. Adherence to the program was found to be higher in the swimmers group, probably for this reason. In addition, swimming was found to reduce waist girth by more than an inch compared to the walkers as well as improving insulin levels, (thereby reducing the risk of diabetes) and lowered cholesterol levels.

Dr Cox commented on the fact that in the water you lose more body heat, which also contributes to increased energy use when swimming.

Dr Richard Prince from Sir Charles Gardner Hospital and an expert in osteoporosis (bone thinning which occurs more in menopause) suggested that enjoying a variety of exercise is advisable. He stated that weight-bearing exercise is particularly important for postmenopausal women in the fight against bone loss.

For brain fitness, physical exercise remains a vital key to improve overall well-being and stabilise mood. It also stimulates our brain’s plasticity, encouraging new brain connections to form and enhances neurogenesis or the birth of new brain cells.

As someone who enjoys both swimming and walking, this report is music to my ears. Time to don the bathers and get into the pool.
So whether it is swimming or walking, the main message is to be doing something and aim to exercise regularly. Make it part of your daily routine and enjoy the benefits of improved physical and brain health.

References:
Cox K.L. et al. Short and long-term adherence to swimming and walking programs in older women – The Sedentary Women Exercise Adherence Trial (SWEAT 2). Preventive Medicine 46;6:511-517
Cox K.L. et al. Blood pressure rise with swimming versus walking in older women: the Sedentary Women Exercise Adherence Trial 2 (SWEAT 2) Journal of Hypertension 24;2:307-314

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