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Aerobic advantage: Bike or swim for fun summer exercise

Kids ride bikes and go swimming because these activities are fun, not even realizing that biking and swimming are also excellent forms of aerobic exercise. This summer, consider adding cycling or swimming to an exercise routine for the health benefits and maybe for a bit of fun.

Cycling and swimming both involve repeatedly moving large muscles in the arms, legs and hips. As a result, breathing is faster and deeper, and the heart beats more rapidly, all to increase the flow of oxygen and blood. Over the course of weeks and months, the body becomes stronger, and the risk for developing chronic conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and stroke, drops. Because cycling and swimming are low-impact exercises, they can be helpful for people with conditions, such as arthritis or obesity, who experience pain when jogging or running.

Get in gear for exercise

Centre County is a great location for outdoor biking thanks to numerous bike paths and bike routes, as well as beautiful scenery to enjoy during the ride. Start with a short, flat route and work up to more miles and steeper hills.

An expensive bike is not required; in fact, an inexpensive bike with fewer gears provides additional health benefits as the body works harder without the help of additional gears. Recumbent, hand-pedal and electric-assist bikes are available for riders of varying abilities. In inclement weather, cyclists can log miles on an exercise bike at home or the gym.

Consider incorporating bike rides into the daily routine by biking to work or on short errands. Not only does this change sitting-in-the-car time to active time, but it also helps reduce pollution from motorized vehicles, which benefits the health of everyone.

Be sure to stay safe on outdoor bike rides:

  • Always wear a properly fitting helmet, and choose a bike that is the proper size for reaching pedals and brakes.

  • Wear bright clothing during daylight rides and reflective clothing at night.

  • Add a white front light, red rear light and reflectors to the bike for night-time visibility.

  • Follow traffic laws, which are the same for cyclists and motorized vehicles when on the road.

  • Keep the bike in good working condition, checking for wear and tear on tires and brakes and making sure the chain operates well in all gears.

Dive in to healthy habits

Swimming in Centre County usually requires a pool, although Bald Eagle State Park and a few smaller bodies of water offer non-chlorinated options. Other than a pool or other body of water, the only equipment required for swimming is a bathing suit and perhaps a pair of goggles to protect the eyes.

Water is significantly more resistant than air, so each body movement in water requires more effort and gradually increases muscle strength. At the same time, the buoyancy of water supports the body and protects the joints.

This buoyancy has led to several popular water exercise options beyond swimming laps. Simply walking in waist-high water while swinging the arms at the side is helpful for someone recovering from an injury or surgery, since the water helps support the body. Water aerobics classes combine the leg lifts, jumping jacks and other movements of land-based aerobics with fun water options like kick-boarding.

Exercising in water presents its own hazards, especially in deep water, so take common sense precautions:

  • Always swim with a buddy or in the presence of a lifeguard, so someone is there to help if a muscle cramp or other emergency occurs.

  • At the lake or beach, follow posted warnings regarding weather, waves and dangerous currents.

  • Drink plenty of water. It’s easy to miss the need for hydration when surrounded by water.

  • Contrary to folk lore, waiting 30 minutes after eating is not required. However, as with any form of exercise, swimming is more comfortable when the body has some fuel, but the digestive tract is not overloaded with a heavy meal.

  • Dive only in water with a known depth.

As with all new exercise programs, check with a health care practitioner before beginning a cycling or swimming program. Warm up muscles before exercising and cool down afterward, such as by walking or doing the activity at a slow pace.

Enjoy the health benefits of cycling and swimming this summer, and perhaps discover an activity that is enjoyable all year round.

Barbara H. Cole, DNP, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner with Penn State Health Medical Group.