Experts agree that it's a great way of staying fit and healthy at any age, but when faced with higher prices people are likely to swim less often, while other forms of physical activity such as working out or walking are barely affected.
According to a study by Brunel University London's Health Economics Research Group (HERG), swimming is the individual activity that most people would drop if they faced higher prices.
The study included interviews with 1,683 people, 83% of whom took part in physical activity in some form. It found that people facing 10% higher entry fees to swimming pools were 29% less active, once other variations such as their age and differences in income were taken into account.
A similar 10% higher price of a gym workout would hardly dent enthusiasm, with participation dropping by just 3%. In the case of brisk walking, the expected drop would be even less at 2%.
Prof Julia Fox-Rushby, Professor of Health Economics at Brunel's HERG, said: "Among those surveyed there was a very clear understanding that physical activity is a means of getting healthy, losing weight and having fun.
"But, we have shown for the first time in England, that engaging in physical activity costs you real money and people make a trade-off between whether to go to a leisure centre and how much it would cost them."
The study supports the view that positive financial incentives, such as subsidising the price of participation, could generally lead to an increase in the quantity of physical activity people participate in.
However, it also suggests that a policy of subsidising an individual activity such as swimming could be more effective than a blanket implementation on all forms of physical activity.
Prof Fox-Rushby carried out the study with Dr Subhash Pokhrel and Dr Nana Anokye at HERG.
Notes to Editors:
Of the 1,683 people surveyed, an average of £2.40 was spent per occasion of participation in physical activity, and 23 minutes on average was spent on travelling to the place of participation.
The paper 'Economic analysis of participation in physical activity in England: implications for health policy' by Nana Anokye, Subhash Pokhrel and Julia Fox-Rushby was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity on 14th September 2014 and can be viewed here.
Keith Coles, External Communications Officer, Brunel University London, email@example.com, 01895 266599.
Prof Julia Fox-Rushby, Professor of Health Economics, Health Economics Research Group, Brunel University London, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01895 266864.
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity