Swimming superstar Adam Peaty has cinched Great Britain's first Olympic gold medal in Rio, claiming a World Record in the process.

Despite the 21-year-old being scared of the water as a child, he's a firm advocate of encouraging people to take up the sport - and since it's a great form of exercise, it's no surprise why it's so popular.

For starters, swimming's the best all-round workout, ticking the cardio box and full-body strengthening (which makes it a great cross-training addition, whether you're a runner, cyclist, dancer etc); it's a life skill; and widely accessible.

"Swimming is the one activity you can do throughout your life, from birth through to older age," says Ian Freeman, coaching system technical lead at the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA).

"As well as being great at relaxing the mind and providing a social environment, because water supports up to 90% of the body's weight, swimming is the perfect way for people with impairments, injuries or illnesses to stay active."

This is a big part of why swimming's the most popular exercise among older age groups. Freeman notes that the ASA has also developed Dementia Friendly Swimming sessions to support people living with dementia, and their carers, in staying active.

Positive waves

Despite these benefits, ASA figures suggest one in five UK adults can't swim, while Speedo recently found more than two-thirds (69%) can't swim more than 100 metres, and one in three admit they're not confident in water.

A survey by Fusion Lifestyle, a charity that manages 80 public pools across the UK, found that 'fear of water or drowning' is the most common reason (20%) given by non-swimmers, while 9% blamed low body-confidence and not wanting to be seen in a swimming costume.

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The good news is these things can all be overcome. The thought of stripping down to a cossie does fill lots of people with dread - but swimming's actually a fantastic way to take the focus off body-image woes, as it encourages you to shift the focus from what your body looks like, to how great the freedom of being in water, and getting fitter, feels (plus you'll soon realise that humans come in all shapes and sizes and nobody really cares!).

Building confidence in the water might take time, but it's possible, and group or one-on-one lessons and coaching's widely available - sometimes for free.

Enquire at your local leisure centre, visit the ASA website. Also, Speedo is offering free 60-minute swim fitness sessions with instructors across the UK until October for more information, click here.

Leisurely laps

With the Rio Olympics in full swing and triathlons growing ever more popular, there is much more emphasis on 'training' nowadays, but if you're happy with your gentle, leisurely swims, that's great too - they'll still be doing you the world of good. Freeman agrees that it's "absolutely" worthwhile doing leisurely lengths.

"A gentle swim can burn over 200 calories in half an hour - more than double that of walking - while a faster swim would see that indulgent chocolate bar gone quicker than if you went running or cycling.

"Because exercising in water makes your body work harder, 30 minutes in a pool is worth 45 minutes of the same activity on land," he explains.

"By combining 30 minutes of swimming three or more times per week alongside a balanced, healthy diet and lifestyle is one of the best ways to reduce body fat and maximise weight losses and maintain a positive mental wellbeing."

Do you swim to keep fit? Let us know in the Comments section below.