Both swimming and an elliptical machine get your heart pumping and help your body burn calories and build lean muscle mass. According a study published in "Circulation," cardiovascular exercises reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and hypertension. While both swimming and elliptical machine exercise are good for your health, they have distinct differences.
Swimming is a virtually nonimpact aerobic sport that works all the major muscle groups, including the back, shoulders, abdominal, hips, legs and glutes. Water places 12 times more resistance on the body than air -- thus, no matter which way you move, you are engaging muscles. Swimming accommodates exercisers of all abilities, ages and sizes, even those recovering from injuries.
An elliptical machine also offers a cardiovascular workout in a low-impact environment. Because of the fluid movement of the pedals, the elliptical places little stress on your hips, back and knees. When you pedal forward, the major muscle group engaged is your quadriceps, but the elliptical allows you to also pedal backward, which engages your hamstring and calf muscles. Many elliptical machines come equipped with movable arm handles, which allow you to get a full-body workout.
For a 150-pound person, one hour in the pool swimming laps at a moderate pace burns 414 calories. That same person would burn 774 calories in an hour on an elliptical. According to "The Washington Post," while both sports provide you with a cardiovascular workout, only the elliptical improves your bone strength and fights osteoporosis. This is because the elliptical is a weight-bearing activity while swimming is not; when you are in a pool, your body floats, eliminating the weight-bearing aspect.
When it comes to complete beginners, the elliptical may be the way to go, especially if you are crunched for time. Beginner swimmers should take lessons to learn proper form and technique. Learning the strokes and how to breathe correctly can be overwhelming to some new swimmers. According to "Shape" magazine, getting on an elliptical for the first time is as simple as stepping on and adjusting the resistance and incline to match your ability. If you are new to either sport, start slowly and build up your endurance over time.