How Can Swimming Benefit Healthcare Workers?


Written By Lucy Peters

Healthcare workers face a plethora of physical and mental hazards on a daily basis — including biological hazards, stress, slips and falls at work, and more. They are at a high risk for developing musculoskeletal disorders owing to the handling, positioning, and lifting of patients. A study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care reports that common injuries include sprains and strains, with the most affected body parts including shoulders, the lower back, calves, and hand muscles. Stress is another issue for people working in this profession, with studies showing that the prevalence of workplace stress stands at around 68.2%. There are many exercise programs that can help curb physical and mental stress, with holistic activities such as yoga being particularly strong in terms of boosting mental health. Swimming is another activity that can be useful in terms of boosting physical and mental resilience.

Swimming and Stress

Swimming can help curb stress, as found in a study published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health. The study focused on the effect of winter swimming on mood, with findings showing that stress and fatigue decreased significantly during the four-month study period, while memory and mood improved. Those who took winter swims reported higher energy and activity than the control group. Swimming also has important physical benefits; participants who had rheumatism, asthma, and fibromyalgia reported that the activity had relieved their pain.

Swimming and Muscular Pain

Nurses and other health professionals who have experienced a painful injury should receive a professional diagnosis and treatment plan, since some injuries benefit from physiotherapy and exercise while others require rest. Generally, swimming is good for the shoulders because it gives muscles a good workout without loading the joints. Many patients with lower back pain are also prescribed swimming as a form of rehabilitation, because of the buoyant force of water. Swimming can also be a good way for those with minor sprains to enjoy a cardiovascular workout, focusing on the upper body. However, as warned by U.S. Masters Swimming’s Linda Foley, in the case of severe sprains, this exercise should be avoided because “The kicking motion puts the ankle in the plantar-flexed (pointed) and inverted position (toe slightly in), which places more direct pressure on the already sprained ligament.” The effect can be delayed healing.

The Importance of Correct Form

Health workers who are keen on trying out this activity should learn basic swimming skills under the guidance of a trainer or swimming instructor. They should take things slowly, focusing on proper technique. They can start with half an hour sessions around three times a week, making sure that their stroke and positioning is right. This is because poor technique can strain muscles and/or make small injuries worse.

Swimming and Obesity

Obesity prevalence is high across all professions in the U.S., including nurses (25.1%) and other healthcare professionals (14.4%). In a study by R. Kyle et al., researchers insist that this is a cause of concern because obesity “increases the risks of musculoskeletal conditions and mental health conditions that are the main causes of sickness absence in health services.” Swimming not only burns calories but also works out more of the body’s major muscle groups than other types of exercise. When running or cycling, for instance, people mainly work out their legs. Swimming involves not only the leg muscles but also the arms, chest, and core. Thus, those who swim assiduously boast excellent muscular development in the upper body.

Nurses and other health workers face specific risks, including stress and musculoskeletal injuries. Swimming can help them in many ways, by battling stress, playing a role in rehabilitation, and helping to strengthen muscles. This popular activity is also ideal for those wishing to lose weight and develop the muscles in their upper body.