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Progressive aerobic exercise (the type that works the cardiovascular system) of any type is a great way to boost recovery - whether it's post-operative or to ease joint pain and help sprains heal quickly. It can also help you recover from other illnesses and even depression. Moving, breathing and getting blood flowing, all helps your body heal itself quicker.
Swimming is particularly good as it's a no-impact activity, hence why exercising in water is popular with pregnant women, older people, the overweight, and those with chronic illnesses such as arthritis.
Swimming is good exercise after surgery as there's no impact and it works all the muscles in the body. Freestyle is good if you want to go fast and burn calories, breaststroke if you want to go easier (but after some ops you should avoid it, see below), and backstroke provides an excellent workout for the back. Butterfly is fun, and hard work, but probably only suited to seasoned swimmers in the recovery phase.
Obviously, there are some limitations, and after surgery you will need to be patient. When you get in the water depends on the type of operation you've had, and how well your body is healing. You shouldn't go swimming until your GP or surgeon says it's safe. Getting in the water too early will risk infection, or re-opening the wound.
For a sprain, you will need to rest and elevate the affected joint, applying ice and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If it doesn't settle you may need physiotherapy.
If you're fit and healthy however, you may be able to swim. For example, you can use a pull buoy to support a leg/ankle injury, and just work the upper body. Some people can start the day after the injury happens, others may prefer to wait a week or two. Listen to your body and if you're not a swimmer, remember you can join an aqua aerobics or aqua gym class led by a qualified instructor.
Lower-back pain, arthritis, or rehabilitation following a knee or hip replacement can all benefit from water or aqua therapy. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends swimming or walking in the water as rehabilitation exercises for injuries to ligaments, muscles, or tendons. Research has found pain from conditions such as mild osteoarthritis (OA) and joint stiffness will improve with regular exercise - particularly strengthening exercises and aerobic fitness. Working out in water will give you these benefits, but no impact and less pain.
Losing weight if you're overweight can ease symptoms of joint pain.
If you weigh 11st (69.85kg), swimming fast for one hour will burn 704 calories and 493 calories at a slow rate. Swimming and working out in water when you have weight to lose is a great option, as it takes pressure off already-strained joints, it helps keep you cool whilst you're working out, and works all the muscles as well as burning calories.
Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.
See more of Jo Waters' work.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.