Aquatics professionals have been touting the healthfulness of swimming for years, and now science confirms what they’ve been saying. In a groundbreaking study, researchers found male swimmers have a 50 percent lower risk of dying than runners, walkers and sedentary persons.

“As far as we know, this is the first study to look at swimming relative to mortality, and we saw the lowest death rate among the swimmers,” said study leader Dr. Steven Blair, University of South Carolina professor in exercise science.

His research team analyzed comprehensive physical exam results and self-reported physical activity surveys from more than 40,000 white, educated and relatively

affluent men, ages 20 to 90. Data was collected over a span of 40 years from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study in Dallas.

“There are definite health benefits from swimming,” Dr. Blair concluded. “It is very clear that it’s better than being sedentary, but I’d still be reluctant to conclude that swimming is better than running.” Overall, swimmers had a higher cardiorespiratory fitness than walkers and sedentary participants, but earlier comparisons indicated similar health profiles for swimmers and runners, he noted.

Results were presented at the 2008 World Aquatic Health Conference, and research was published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education. Both are products of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, which also funded the research.

Blair said the uniform nature of the study population limits the ability to generalize results to women, and men of different socioeconomic backgrounds. He plans to continue the research, comparing injuries and possibly rates of chronic disease.