Find Your Lifelong Sport: Swimming Laps in the Pool

Aside from being a full-body workout, swimming can improve brain health.

Kelcey Johnson, founder of Swim Philly. / Photograph by Steve Boyle

Swimming is the ultimate low-impact sport, keeping you in shape and “improving your circulation and lung strength without stressing the joints like weight-bearing activities,” says Kelcey Johnson, owner and head swim coach of Swim Philly. Plus, swimming offers flexibility: You can do it casually to achieve fitness goals or for competitive reasons — think triathlons. Even better? Studies show that swimming can lower blood pressure, fuel your body and brain, and help you sleep better — a win-win for young and old alike.

What makes the sport so appealing to younger folks is that even though it’s easy on joints and ligaments, swimming is a total body workout that burns a ton of calories and engages every muscle group — especially your core — without you having to lift a single weight. This is an especially big deal for young athletes who are constantly looking to boost all-around performance, get over that seemingly insurmountable training plateau, and reduce the risk of injury that can come with high-impact sports — all of which help in the long run.

Besides the killer abs, swimming promotes a healthy mind. Like other forms of exercise, swimming increases those feel-good brain chemicals known as endorphins. However, the workout goes a step further: Early animal studies suggest that swimming also boosts levels of what’s called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) — a protein that aids in memory storage, cognitive function and mood regulation. That’s particularly beneficial for stressed-out students cramming for exams or those run ragged by demanding jobs. Whether or not young swimmers are aware of this before diving off the block, they’ll certainly feel the effects long after the final lap of the day.

To get ready for the water, Johnson says, all you need is a pair of goggles, a swimsuit, and a cap if you want to protect your hair. There are plenty of places in the Philly area where you can swim with or without lanes, like one of the city’s many public pools.

Four places to learn swimming near Philadelphia 

Fitness Alive, Center City and East Passyunk
Best for: The family
Fitness Alive offers all-age lessons as well as small group classes and personal training. The Baby and Toddler Bubbles class may be the perfect way to get your little one ready for an afternoon nap.

University City Swim Club, University City
Best for: Outdoor options
This club boasts a 25-yard, four-lane lap pool, a diving well, a community pool and a kiddie pool.

Swim Philly, multiple locations around Philadelphia
Best for: Learning to swim competitively
Founder Kelcey Johnson is an Ironman participant, and she coaches students at all stages of life and ability levels. Bonus: She makes house calls.

YMCA, multiple locations
Best for: Convenience
The YMCA is not only cost-effective, but with your membership, you can go to any of their participating locations across the United States.

Player spotlights

Jessica Goldstein: member of multi-sport athletic club Tri856; Voorhees, 12 

Jessica Goldstein. / Photograph by Steve Boyle

“Swimming is something that I’m good at and enjoy doing, especially competing in triathlons, like my parents. I’ve met a lot of friends from it, and it’s just been really fun to do.”

Jillian Leigh: YMCA swimming instructor; Mount Laurel, 40 

Jillian Leigh. / Photograph by Steve Boyle

“I am drawn to swimming because of the freedom. I like the independence of swimming and how free it feels to be in the water. Plus, swimming isn’t just a sport; it’s a life-saving skill, which is why I started teaching it.”

Published as part of the “Find your Lifelong Sport” package in the Be Well Philly 2022 print issue.