Individuals with bone density issues are often told to give up swimming as it does not help with their bone density. It is generally understood that weight bearing exercise (walking, weight training) has the greatest impact on bone density. However, there are many individuals for whom swimming is the only form of exercise they tolerate with their various joint or musculoskeletal issues.
Don’t be discouraged! In an article “Rethinking Aquatic Exercise for Bone Density” by Andrea Salzman, MS, PT 2013 she discusses the benefits of swimming and /or water exercise. It is true that water immersion can decrease weight bearing forces by more than 90%, but aquatic exercise is still considered a good option for individuals that are dealing with bone loss.
If an individual is having difficulty exercising and moving on land, water movement provides a resistive drag that can require more effort than the same movement on dry land. The study of water exercise and swimming has shown clinicians that it is possible to produce the similar speed, power and athletic gains in water as land based counterparts with a lower incidence of injury.
Muscle pull on bone is a stimulus for bone growth. The movement in water with the resistance of the water increases stimulus to bone by requiring the muscle to pull against the bone.
For many individuals, the movement freedom in water helps interrupt a painful cycle and facilitates an overall increase in strength and flexibility. In addition, the water refraction makes it difficult to use vision for foot placement, which requires them to develop kinesthetic awareness and balance to move in water.
Consistently participating in any form of exercise is important for preventing bone loss. It is also helpful in increasing and maintaining strength and flexibility, as well as improving balance to prevent falls. So…just keep swimming!