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Fitness Q&A

Doing Laps to Lose Weight? Swim Faster and Longer

July 08, 2002|STEPHANIE OAKES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I've read that swimming may be a great exercise, but not for weight loss. Is it true?

WILLIAM RAIBER

Los Angeles

Answer: You're right that swimming is a wonderful form of exercise. It uses almost all the major muscle groups and places a tremendous demand on the cardiovascular system (heart and lungs).

Swimming also helps develop muscle strength, endurance and flexibility.

The buoyancy of the water makes it especially useful for people who are overweight, pregnant or injured (such as with leg or lower back problems).

As for the weight loss issue, numerous studies have been done on this, but the results have been inconsistent and sometimes contradictory--ranging from swimmers losing weight (and body fat), gaining a few pounds (although the pounds are usually lean muscle weight not fat) and having no weight changes at all.

If your primary reason for swimming is to lose weight, I would suggest--as with any cardio exercise--that you increase your intensity, speed up your strokes and increase your duration.

At a slow pace, for example, 20 laps may burn only 50 calories, but a brisk forward crawl can burn as much as 11 calories per minute.

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Stephanie Oakes is the fitness correspondent for Discovery Health Channel and a health and fitness consultant. Send questions by e-mail to stephoakes@aol.com.

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