If you’ve ever wondered how the act of swimming affects your heart compared to land-based activities, a recent study may be of interest to you.
Published in Frontiers in Physiology last November, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada and other institutions took a look at the structure and function of elite swimmers’ and runners’ hearts.
Swimming is unique in the fact that our bodies are immersed in water, are in a prone position and both upper and lower limbs are involved. Add in the fact that breath holding is a big component of the activity and swimming is truly a different animal than, say, running or rowing.
Swimmers involved in the study were recruited at the 2016 FINA Short Course World Championships in Windsor and were tested upon completion of all competitions. Runners were recruited during the competitive season from an elite local club near the University involved in the study. Sixteen athletes were included in each group, and they were matched based on age, sex, and race.
Although the study proved that exercise is healthy for hearts, no matter on land or in the water, small differences were indeed discovered, such as the left ventricles of runners’ hearts filling back with blood earlier than average and untwisting more quickly during each heartbeat. ‘In theory, those differences should allow blood to move from and back to the runners’ hearts more rapidly than would happen inside the swimmers.’
However, as swimmers ‘exercise in a horizontal position, their hearts do not have to fight gravity to get blood back to the heart, unlike upright runners.’