There are plenty of reasons for this. I don’t really like being wet, for one, and I haven’t yet figured out how to stay dry while swimming. I like to breathe how much I want and when I want, for another, and swimming cuts one’s ability to draw in air by half, at least.
So swimming has taken on the role of back up exercise for the back up exercise for the back up exercise. If I can’t run, I’ll bike. If I can’t bike, I’ll go cross-country skiing. If I can’t go cross-country skiing, I’ll head to the YMCA and swim some laps.
This winter I’ve found myself doing more and more laps, and it’s gotten to the point where I’ve found certain joys to swimming that can’t be found anywhere else.
There’s the fact that swimming offers an excellent whole body workout without any of the pounding some other exercises might exert on the body. One is wet, to be sure, but pools are temperature-controlled so the lap swimmer is never too cold to the point of shivering nor so hot so one’s head feels its about to explode. Swimming offers almost immediate, tangible results, in a more toned upper body and core.
(“Is that an ab that I’m seeing? No, it’s just a smear of chocolate ice cream. But still, there’s some definition in the shoulders there.”)
But my favorite thing about swimming is the rush that it provides. Because I’m not a great swimmer, I work hard to get from one end of the pool to another. That causes me to breath hard, often with every stroke, and splashing and thrashing about gets the heart pumping. (I AM trying to refine my form, imitating the “how-to” videos that I’ve been watching on YouTube.)
This all typically gives me a light, airy feeling when I finish my 20 or so laps. I hang on the side of the pool, look up at the ceiling and feel the world turning around as my pulse rate slows. I know all the books on exercise and warning labels on stair climbers and the like say you’re supposed to “stop exercising immediately if you feel dizzy,” but this is a different feeling altogether.
This feeling is really one of the main reasons I continue to do anything at all. If I got the same sensation watching television, I’d spend all my waking hours watching reruns of “Gilligan’s Island.” (Thanks goodness for that feeling of self-loathing that comes over me at hour three in front of the television.)
This “high,” which scientists say comes from mix of natural mood-altering chemicals produced by the body during exercise, seems to be particularly acute after swimming.
I have no real clue why.
My personal theory is that it’s because you’re prone in the water, and blood does not need to fight gravity to be pumped into the nooks and crannies of the brain. (Theory only; no scientific evidence at all, like all my theories.)
Whatever it is, I like swimming enough to squeeze my embarrassingly doughy body into a pair Speedos (the bik- shorts version of a lap swim suit; not the banana-hammock version favored by some middle-aged Russian men) and jump into the water.