Swimming vs running for weight loss


When you talk about getting an exercise for weight loss, what comes to your mind? For most people, two exercises that come to their mind are swimming and running. The two exercises are the most popular cardiovascular exercises out there. However, there is a little problem. Not all of us can combine the two. Some will favour swimming, while some will go for running. A few will look into using science to back up their choice, which will lead to them searching which one is the better.  If you fall into this category or you are not sure which is the better exercise, you are in the right place. Below is what we think about the two exercises. It does not matter whether you need it for losing weight, or you value your overall health, simply read on.

Swimming vs Running: An Overview.

As we said earlier, swimming and running are two of the most adaptable exercises. They form part of most weight loss regimens, promote cardiovascular health, and improve overall athleticism. Therefore, it is no surprise that they are the favourite exercises for many fitness coaches and enthusiasts. In choosing which among the exercises to adopt for your weight loss, we believe certain factors are considered. They are:

  • Calories Burned

There are two very important questions to ask yourself before choosing any fitness regimen. “How many calories do I want to burn daily/weekly?” and “How many calories does this burn?”

When it comes to the amount of calorie burnt, certain factors influence it. These are your weight, duration and intensity of the exercise. According to the Harvard Medical School, these are the calories burned at different weights after 30 minutes of exercise.

 30 Minutes of At 125 Pounds At 155 Pounds At 185 Pounds
Swimming (normal pace) 180 223 266
Swimming (vigorous pace) 300 372 444
Running at 5 mph pace (12min/mile) 240 298 345
Running at a 7.5 mph pace (8 min/mile) 375 475 555

As you can see, you burn more calories when you exercise at a higher intensity than you would at a moderate intensity. Here’s a simple explanation of why. When you exercise at a high intensity, your heart rate goes up, and your metabolism dramatically increases. The increased metabolism leads to your body burning more sugar (energy) stores in a bid to find the energy to keep up. The rapid depletion of these energy stores is what leads to more calories being burned.

From the table, you must have probably noticed that running seems to burn more calories than swimming, whether performed at a moderate or high intensity. This is something to consider, especially if your free time for daily workouts is limited to thirty minutes or less.

  • Muscle Groups Worked.

This is another factor to consider in making your choice. Depending on your fitness goals or the stage of your weight loss journey, you may want to work more on different muscle groups.

Running works on your lower body. Here, your thighs and calves are the major muscle groups you hit. On the other hand, swimming offers a full-body workout. Along with your lower body, swimming works out your upper body and midsection as well. Your arms, shoulders, abs, and back muscles are all actively used when you swim.

So, if you’re mainly interested in toning or strengthening your legs, running is the exercise for you. But if you want a full-body workout, then, by all means, go swimming.

  • Injury Concerns.

Another factor to consider is your likelihood of injury or existing injury issues. One of the benefits of swimming is that it is way easier on your joints than running is. Therefore, if you have joint pain such as arthritis, we advise you to choose swimming. Because unlike jogging, which is an impact exercise, water buoyancy supports and protects your joints and muscles. In fact, in a 2016 study, it was discovered that swimming helps reduce stiffness and joint pain!

  • Accessibility

Unless you have loads of free time and/or the extra cash for long commutes, you may have to pick running over swimming. Why? As long as you have your running shoes, you can jog anywhere and anytime you want. With swimming, it is a bit different. Unlike running, you can’t “just start swimming”; you need access to a pool – a nice clean pool. And even if one is close by, most pools aren’t open 24/7. So, unless you have relatively unrestricted access to a pool, you may have to put aside your dreams of becoming the Baltimore Bullet till you sort that out.

  •     Other Medical Reasons

As we mentioned earlier, running is an impact exercise and is likely to cause joint pain. However, if you have no injury concerns, then there may be a hidden advantage of running for you. You see, running is a weight-bearing activity. This means that it forces you to work against gravity.

The repeated effort against gravity strengthens your bones and, consequently, prevents bone loss and improves bone density. Depending on your age, this may be a factor to seriously consider as bone loss increases with age.


As you can see, there is no right or wrong choice between the two super exercises – swimming and running. At the end of the day, it all boils down to your immediate personal needs and preferences. The above factors are the guides that will help you in making a decision which would most hopefully benefit not just your health, but your entire quality of life as well.

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