Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance used to form certain tissues in the body, especially nerves. Your body gets the cholesterol it needs from your daily diet. The fat in the food which you eat is digested and taken to the liver, where it is processed into cholesterol.
The two main types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it carries fat from your liver to other parts of the body. The higher the level of LDL in your blood, the greater the likelihood that cholesterol will deposit within the walls of your blood vessels. This in turn increases your risk of developing heart disease.
HDL cholesterol is called “good” cholesterol because it is believed to help your body get rid of cholesterol by transporting fat and LDL cholesterol deposits to the liver for breakdown, which effectively “cleansing” the arteries.
To protect yourself against cardiovascular disease, you want your HDL (good) cholesterol level to be high and your LDL (bad) cholesterol level to be low. A high level of LDL in the blood is a cardiovascular risk factor; likewise if your HDL level is abnormally low.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally. It has no geographic, gender or socio-economic boundaries. Every year, heart disease and stroke causes as many deaths as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and diabetes plus all forms of cancer and chronic respiratory disease combined.
An estimated 17.3 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2008, representing 30% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.3 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.2 million were due to stroke. By 2030, 23.3 million people will die from cardiovascular dsease, mainly from heart disease and stroke. These are projected to remain the single leading cause of death.
Source: World Health Organization
Some statistics a little closer to home…. Every day, 16 people die from cardiovascular disease (heart diseases and stroke) in Singapore. In 2016 cardiovascular disease accounted for 29.5% (5893 people) of all deaths in Singapore. This means that nearly 1 out of 3 deaths in Singapore, is due to heart diseases or stroke.
So how does swimming have anything to do with cardiovascular disease?
A refreshing swim can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. This is particularly important for people who are at risk for stroke.
“Swimming is a vascular health bonanza,” says David H. Stone, MD, and a member of the Society for Vascular Surgery, United States of America. “Low-impact swimming provides a total cardiovascular workout. Regular exercise strengthens the heart muscle, resulting in less effort and a decrease in blood pressure.”
Lets take an in-depth look at two studies designed to look specifically at the correlation between swimming and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Lipids in Health and Disease the effects of swimming on male adolescent lipid-lipoprotein profiles relative to a maturity matched control group was investigated to determine the effects of this exercise on specific cardiovascular risk and anti-risk factors.
In response to the 12-wk training period, the study identified a decrease of just under 20% in LDL (bad) cholesterol and an increase of just under 6% in HDL (good) cholesterol. The results of the study clearly illustrate the benefits that can be achieved in 12-week period through performing specific exercise training programs such as swimming.
In 2015 a study was published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation designed to define the effects of 12 weeks of regular swimming exercise on the physical composition, physical strength, and blood lipids of middle-aged women. at the conclusion of the 12 week study the results showed a significant drop in total cholesterol and an increase in HDL-C, dramatically lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
As one of the most practiced sports in many parts of the world. Swimming offers a wide range of potential benefits to the body. Swimming has the potential to work all the muscles in your body depending on the strokes you use and can improve your general strength. Swimming also has a great beneficial effect on the HDL cholesterol levels with the added advantage that swimming is fairly easy to get into, unlike for example going to the gym for the first time which is a big step for many people, swimming can be done on your own and you can pretty much start slow and work on your endurance from there on.
Apart from being a great way to exercise…your doctor will thank you for lowering your cholesterol levels! Jump into the pool and start swimming your way to better cardiovascular health today!