Editor’s note: several people have asked about the confounding socioeconomic factors that could influence these results. Here is a corollary paper that addresses that issue: (link)
Written by Dr. Zeljko Pedisic, Senior Research Fellow and Leader, Active Living & Public Health Group, Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL), Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.
Swimming is among the most popular sports globally. A 2017 survey conducted by the National Sporting Goods Association has shown that around 50 million Americans participate in swimming. According to their findings, swimming is the third most popular leisure-time physical activity and the most popular sporting activity nationwide. Such high participation rates make this sport very interesting from the public health perspective.
We are a group of epidemiologists from Australia, Austria and the UK interested in population health benefits of physical activity. We realised that, although much is known about health benefits of physical activity and sports in general, very little evidence is available on the association between participation in specific sports and health outcomes. We, therefore, conducted a study on a sample of more than 80,000 British middle-aged and older adults to see how participation in swimming, cycling, running, racquet sports, football, and aerobics is associated with the risk of premature death.
We asked the participants about their participation in these sports and followed them up for on average nine years to see who was more likely to die – those who had participated in these sports at the baseline or those who had not. We found that participation in swimming was associated with 28% lower risk of premature death from any cause. The positive effects of swimming were even greater for cardiovascular-disease mortality; among those who participated in swimming the risk of death caused by a cardiovascular disease was lower by 41%. Interestingly, these positive effects were similarly high regardless of the reported intensity level of swimming. This is an encouraging finding for all recreational swimmers, who do not find motivation to or cannot for some reason swim at a higher pace.
We hope our findings will help further promote swimming among those who want to train it professionally and also among those who are more interested in recreational aspects of this sport. One of the take-home messages of our study is that swimming is not only a fun and enjoyable activity, but it may also help you live a healthier and longer life.
More information about the study can be found in the full text of our article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/10/812).”