Get Inspired: SWIMMING

Swimming has appeared at every Olympic Games and produced some of the most celebrated champions through the years.

Spitz, Thorpe, Phelps - Olympic champion swimmers fast become household names across the globe, and Rebecca Adlington's double gold at Beijing 2008 installed her as an A-list celebrity in Britain.

But swimming is as much a recreational activity as it is an elite sport. Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK use swimming as a way to keep fit, relax and have fun.

Why is it good for you?

When combined with a balanced, healthy diet, swimming is an efficient way to maximise weight loss, with a 30-minute swim likely to burn approximately 440 calories.

The energy consumed boosts your metabolism so effectively that 30 minutes in the pool equates to 45-60 minutes of land-based exercise.

Swimming is a great way to improve the health of your heart as it can reduce the dangerous, very low density lipoproteins that cause high cholesterol while also raising your 'good' cholesterol levels at the same time.

Furthermore, swimming for 30 minutes at least three times per week can significantly lower blood pressure.

Swimming has been found to be an excellent way to prevent the risk of serious diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis as it improves circulation, controls blood sugar levels and strengthens bones.

Get involved

From beginners to experts, children to adults, courses are run at swimming pools throughout the United Kingdom for those looking to take part.

For beginners, it is essential to receive tuition from qualified coaches to ensure that you learn the different strokes to help you swim in a safe way. Other than that, all that is needed are some swimming trunks or a swimming costume.

Team GB's Keri-Anne Payne

Swimming at the Olympics explained (Part one)

There are more than 1,500 swimming clubs in the UK, and they provide the best foundation for those looking to develop as swimmers.

Visit the British Swimming,  Swim Ulster,  Scottish Swimming  and Swim Wales  websites for information about the different membership schemes.

A wide range of activities,  including competitive races, swimming lessons and aqua aerobics, are being put on in swimming pools throughout the country.

SwimBritain  is one example of an activity you can try - a swimming relay challenge for teams of four, open to swimmers of all abilities. It takes place in the pool or open water, with each team member swimming a total distance of 1000m.

Sign up to British Swimming's mailing list  to be sent details of the latest events and use the pool finder  to find out where you can get started.

British Swimming's Swimfit  scheme offers free online coaching tools that provide a gym style work-out programme for the pool.

More on the British Swimming website 

History

Swimming was not widely practised as a sport until the early 19th Century but has been an Olympic sport since the first modern Games in 1896, when all the disciplines were held in open water. London 1908 was the first to use an indoor pool.

Swimming at the Olympics

Men & Women: 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 1500m freestyle, 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke, 100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x200m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay, 10km marathon

Men only: 1500m freestyle

Women only: 800m freestyle

The first Olympic swimming competition in 1896 featured just three races and was staged in the Mediterranean Sea in the Bay of Zea.

Alfred Hajos of Hungary survived icy water and 12-foot waves when winning the 1500m gold and said afterwards: "My will to live completely overcame my desire to win."

Backstroke was added in 1904 and the butterfly in 1956. Women's swimming became Olympic in 1912 at the Stockholm Games.

Johnny Weissmuller won five gold medals in 1924 and 1928 before gaining international fame as Tarzan. On one day in 1924 he won two swimming golds and a bronze in water polo.

More on the IOC website 

Are you inspired to try Swimming? Or maybe you are a keen enthusiast already? Get in touch and tell us your experience of the activity by tweeting us on @bbcgetinspired  or email us on getinspired@bbc.co.uk.

See our full list of activity guides for more inspiration.