I have a few ideas on how to swim to lose weight, but that swimming needs to be a part of an overall plan. You need to do more than just go to the pool and swim. Exercise alone is not the best path to weight loss.
You can lose weight by including swimming as part of the exercise component in a weight loss plan, but according to research on swimming and weight loss reported on by:
- Burke in SWIMMERS: Body fat mystery!
- Gwinup in Weight loss without dietary restriction: Efficacy of different forms of aerobic exercise
- Tanaka, Bassett,and Howley in Effects of swim training on body weight, carbohydrate metabolism, lipid and lipoprotein profile
Why? for several reasons, including
- Many people feel like "eating a horse" after they finish a swim session, and may eat more calories than they just used during that swim.
- Swimmers may be so tired from the training that they sleep, sit or otherwise do generally nothing outside of their swimming workouts.
The Merck Manual explains that swimming may not be the best way to lose weight due to the cooling effects of being in the water: while you do use a lot of calories swimming, once you get out of the swimming pool much of that calorie burning stops. Why? Because when you are in the pool you don't heat up as much as you do on land, and your body does not have to work to cool you down as much once the exercise session concludes.
Swimming does exercise almost the entire body - heart, lungs, and muscles - with very little joint strain. Swimming is great for general fitness and health, just not the best way to drop excess pounds. To lose body fat you must use more calories than you eat through a combination of controlling your food intake and/or increasing your exercise routine - like doing more swimming.
There are some new ideas coming on the effects of cooling the body's core temperature and weight loss. Swimming in a cool or cold pool, lake, or ocean (following proper safety precautions) might actually increase calorie burning while your body works to restore your core temperature. Swimming in the cold water makes you colder, and your body then works (burns calories) to heat you back up again. That could mean that if the pool is cold enough, you could lose weight by swimming (maybe more so because the environment is cold, but it is still swimming to lose weight). If you do go this way, take precautions against hypothermia.
Do you want to swim and try to lose weight? You must do enough swimming, at a high enough effort level, that you impact the "calories eaten and calories used balance" so that you use more calories than you take in. That is the key to any weight loss or weight control plan that involves exercise. I think you might be able to do it. I know many swimmers that have, but I know plenty that have not been able to lose weight with swimming, too. The key to losing body fat, to losing unwanted pounds, is an overall plan of good, healthy activity coupled with healthy eating. Swimming can help with half that, it is a healthy activity. The other half? That takes self-control or discipline when eating.