Looking for a workout alternative that isn't all washed up? You may want to try swimming. Sure, jumping into the pool and swimming laps lacks a bit of glamour, but that doesn't mean this fitness option is soggy. In fact, for beginners and veteran exercisers alike, swimming can be a great way to boost your fitness level and reduce stress.

Don't let the fact that it's cooler than a landlubbing workout fool you. Like its drier exercise counterparts, swimming is a great cardiovascular workout, meaning it makes the heart stronger so it can pump blood more efficiently. This can help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. And unlike some other aerobic workouts, the natural resistance water offers means you can strengthen your muscles as you work your heart.

People who can't reap these benefits from working out on land for a variety of reasons may want to consider swimming as an alternative. That's because water's natural buoyancy reduces the amount of body weight you carry as you work by about 90%, minimizing the impact on your joints. This makes swimming a great exercise option for people who:

  • suffer from arthritis or joint problems
  • have back problems
  • are overweight or obese
  • have weak leg muscles
  • are recovering from surgery or an injury

But swimming isn't the best exercise option for everyone. While water's buoyancy makes it an ideal workout for people looking to lighten their load, if you are looking for exercise that can help you build bone density - which cuts the risk of osteoporosis - you'll likely get better results from low impact weight-bearing exercise on dry land. And if you're trying to lose weight, you may want to immerse yourself in another activity. Why? Water conducts heat away from the body, keeping your body temperature - and your metabolism - lower than when you work out on land.

Once you've decided to make a splash, here's what you need to know.

  • start slowly: As with any new workout, start slowly and gradually work your way up to 30 minutes straight. And again, as with any new exercise plan, check with your doctor first.
  • consider lessons: If you haven't been in the water for some time, you may want to consider swimming lessons to learn new strokes and other exercises you can do in the water. Make sure your instructor is trained in CPR and has the appropriate lifeguarding certification.
  • know your limits: If you choose to swim in open water rather than a swimming pool, remember that cooler water temperatures and water currents can tire you out faster.
  • use sunscreen: If you're an outdoor swimmer, remember that water doesn't block the sun's harmful rays. Apply a waterproof sunscreen before going in the water and make sure to reapply after you dry off.

There are also a number of swim-specific ailments that can leave you soggy:

  • swimmer's ear: This is an infection of the outer ear and ear canal, which can occur when water becomes trapped inside the ear, changing its acidity levels and promoting bacteria growth. Swimmer's ear can be itchy or painful and may cause the skin on the outer ear to appear red and flaky. It's treated with medicated ear drops, so if you're a frequent swimmer, you may want to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about getting a prescription filled before infection occurs, so you can begin treatment when the first symptoms of infection hit. Left untreated, swimmer's ear can be extremely painful.
  • swimmer's itch: This itchy rash is caused by parasites that live in some freshwater lakes. The parasites enter superficial layers of the skin and then die, causing irritation and a red rash on exposed skin only. Repeated exposure to these parasites can sometimes cause blisters. Lake swimmers can prevent getting this condition by avoiding marshy areas where snails are often found and by rinsing and vigorously drying exposed skin immediately after leaving the water. If you do get swimmer's itch, oral antihistamines and anti-itch products such as calamine lotion can help.
  • swimmer's shoulder: This is an inflammation of the rotator cuff that can make it difficult to take a stroke or to have a regular range of motion out of the water. As a result, activities that involve raising your arm may be painful. Swimmer's shoulder may be prevented by warming up and cooling down properly before swimming and by using proper stroke technique. If you do suffer from swimmer's shoulder, take a break from swimming and apply ice. Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help. Some cases may require physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and even surgery.

Now that you're armed with all you need to know about swimming, you're ready to make a splash. So jump in and enjoy your swim!