Some have called swimming “the perfect exercise” because of its numerous benefits.

If I had to pick one ingredient that is the most common and essential factor in any exercise, weight lifting, nutrition, physical therapy, and health program it would be water. I have written about the immense benefits and necessities of water many times over the years. The saying that water is the essence of life is no exaggeration.

Now this time of year my main focus with water is swimming. Understanding how the basic exercise of swimming can change your body and your health, can also change your life.

For physical appearance and aesthetics, swimming strengthens muscles throughout your entire body. While your legs are kicking, your arms are pulling. While your back rotates your stomach tightens, powering the legs and strengthening the core muscles (stomach, lower back, and obliques). Your upper body in particular can develop nicely, especially your lats (the muscles in the middle of the back that extend out on both the left and right sides), your triceps (the muscles in the backs of your upper arms), and your core.

Olympic gold medalists Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, two of the most awarded swimmers in history, as well as gold medalist Katie Ledecky are a few visual examples of conditioned swimmers' physiques. Other visual examples are celebrities Julia Roberts, Diana Ross, Nicole Kidman, and David Duchovny, who, throughout their lives, used and continue to use swimming as their favorite exercise. My client Nikolay, pictured here prior to taking a swim, also understands these swimming benefits.

Swimming also improves bone density. Bone density has been a common topic in my columns over the past decade. Poor bone density can lead to bone diseases and illnesses, like osteoporosis. In addition to appropriate prescriptions and supplements like calcium and vitamin D, swimming, like weight bearing exercises, can also strengthen bone density.

In addition to these things, swimming reduces inflammation. Not only does it reduce inflammation, it reduces the kind that can lead to atherosclerosis (a disease of the arteries). It also burns calories equal to, and sometimes greater, than running on a treadmill. A strong 30 minute butterfly swim can burn 150 more calories than running a 5k in the same time frame.

As if these things weren't enough, swimming also improves asthma symptoms, and the overall condition of the lungs. For asthma sufferers swimming allows you to breathe moist air while you work out. It teaches us how to breathe, and its breathing benefits and lung improvement can be long lasting.

For improvements in your skin try swimming in salt water. The salt water can help the skin retain its moisture, detoxify, and promote cell growth – all of which can leave your skin feeling smooth and healthy.

Longevity of life may be one of the least known benefits of swimming. Some of you may think I'm exaggerating that benefit, but trust me there's no exaggeration here. Decades of research have shown lifetime swimmers have a 50 percent lower death rate than runners, walkers, and people who don't exercise.

For brain function, swimming can improve intelligence, especially in kids. It improves motor function, mastery of language development, mathematical skills, and confidence. Swimming also lowers stress and depression. Swimming brings out feel good emotions. It allows us to release meditative relaxation similar to what we may feel after doing yoga, or stretching and deep breathing.

Some have called swimming “the perfect exercise” because of its numerous benefits. The ones I mentioned here are a good snapshot of swimming's many benefits, but by no means is this a complete exhaustive review of how swimming can benefit you and those you love. I have trained many people over the years in water, including those suffering with fibromyalgia, Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and other illnesses. I have seen its benefits up close and can attest to how much of a help swimming can bring.

The fact that water is denser than air is exactly one of the reasons why I'm a fan and advocate of its use as exercise. Moving through water puts more pressure on your body than it would receive on land. It's evenly distributed all over your body so each section is getting equal treatment.

An added bonus of this is the relief it can provide our backs, including improving our posture. Back problems are some of the most prominent and universal problems that we as a whole share. Some of these problems are activity driven: hunching over our desks, not walking upright, weight gain, and bad posture, are all things that lead to back pain and problems.

One of my favorite quotes is Thomas Fuller's “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” There is no life or good health without water. Learning how to effectively use it, including in exercise, can literally change and extend your life. Please contact me at if you have any questions or feedback.

Michael Shaw is a certified fitness trainer, sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw LLC, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, and a fitness and fashion model manager. He can be reached at