Swimming is a healthy activity with both physical and mental benefits

Increase your fitness with water exercise, be it lap swimming or water aerobics; besides the benefits to your heart, lungs, and muscles, you will feel better about yourself. Take a break from your hectic daily schedule and enjoy playing at the beach on a hot summer day. Swimming also enhances your enjoyment of recreational activities like scuba diving, sailing, rafting, and even going to the beach.

Swimming is the most nearly perfect form of exercise. It is non-weight bearing and imposes no stress on the bones and joints; it improves cardiovascular conditioning; it is a valuable weight-control exercise -- one hour of swimming burns about as many calories as running six miles in one hour, and it is a form of meditation that helps calm the nerves. Swimming also uses most major muscle groups and strengthens the upper and lower body.

Be aware of the depth of the water and any potential hazards before going in. Know where the pool ladder and steps are. When swimming in the ocean or lakes, watch for rocks, pollution, currents, and sudden changes in water temperature. Never swim alone, regardless of your skill level. Since pool chemicals can irritate and dry the skin, shower immediately after bathing and apply moisturizing lotion.

As you swim, think about a straight line from head to hips to legs. All parts of the stroke are integrally linked. Head position and kick determine how high you ride in the water. The timing of your breathing affects your alignment and, to some extent, the path of your arms.

Keep your head straight down as you swim; roll your body both ways, even if you only breathe on one side; don't ever kick, or you will tire out your legs.

Alternate different strokes within the same workout to reduce boredom and work for other muscle groups.

Warm up and stretch before swimming hard. A few minutes of stretching before and after swimming will make your stroke smoother and more efficient and help relieve muscle soreness.

After warming up and stretching, swim continuously for 10 minutes. Once you can do that comfortably, increase your swim time by 2 minutes every third session. Then, add in a set of 10 sprints of about 50 yards each. Rest for about 30 seconds in between races.

Do a total-body conditioning program. It is essential to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles to keep the shoulder joint tight, so make shoulder-strengthening exercises part of your regular workout routine. Free weights isolate the rotator cuff muscles better than exercise machines.

Drink plenty of fluids before and after your workout. It's easy to become dehydrated, even during water workouts.

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