Keeping active is important for your health, but being mentally fit is also important. As a form of physical exercise, swimming is hard to beat. However, in addition to all the obvious physical health benefits, there’s something mentally therapeutic about being near or in water that’s much harder to put your finger on. If you’re a regular swimmer, you’ve no doubt experienced it yourself!
Your mental health is ever changing. Many different factors and life events affect it in positive and negative ways. Stress caused by work, education, money problems, bereavement or relationship breakdowns can all cause mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Getting older can also have an effect on mental health. Therefore, I have laid out a few examples of benefits that swimming can have on your mental health and how these benefits could apply to you!
Swimming, like all exercise, releases endorphins in your brain. These are natural feel-good hormones that increase positivity and bring about a sense of wellbeing and happiness. This ‘feel-good’ factor from just jumping in a pool and exercising can have a massive positive impact on mental health including: improving mood, increasing self-esteem, lowers the risk of depression, slows dementia and cognitive decline, improves sleep and reduces stress.
"Swimming is a fun and effective way to relieve stress, possibly more so than other type of physical exercise."
There’s a growing interest in the idea that swimming can reduce stress more so than other sports. Swimming is a fun and effective way to relieve stress, possibly more so than other type of physical exercise. Being in contact with water, by itself, can help to loosen up both body and mind. Better still, being immersed in water while swimming, playing close attention to your technique as you practise the regular rhythm of your swimming strokes can have a very relaxing, almost meditative effect on the mind.
Boosting Brain Health
A small study found that just being in water increases blood flow to the brain. Participants were immersed in water up to chest height and scientists measured blood flow to the brain while they were in the water and again when they drained the pool. They suggest their findings could indicate a positive impact on brain health. A healthy blood flow to the brain is important for supplying it with oxygen, glucose and nutrients and protecting it from harmful toxins.
A scientific study carried out by the Griffith Institute for Educational Research found that children who learn to swim earlier reach major cognitive developmental milestones – including oral expression, literacy, numeracy and visual motor skills – earlier than their peers and non-swimmers.
Combating Pre-Existing Conditions
Regular swimming, even just half an hour at a time, is known to be effective for lowering levels of depression and anxiety, and improving sleep quality. While 1 in 6 people worldwide suffer from depression, physical activity such as swimming can lead to a 30% improvement in self-worth, increasing general satisfaction in life. In research carried out with the participation of 4,000 swimmers across the world, 75% agreed that water based activities helped release tension, while 68% of people felt being in the water made them feel happier in themselves. Further, for adults living with conditions such as dementia, swimming is a great way to improve memory, focus and concentration.
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The social benefits of swimming should not be underestimated. While swimming in itself is a solitary form of physical exercise, it’s also a hobby and team sport that can be shared with others. In this way, swimming can be a great way to meet like-minded individuals to share experiences, swap swimming tips and tricks or simply enjoy a hobby together.
Further, swimming pools and leisure centres do encourage socialising – because they are also key community places. Whether it’s meeting in the cafe afterwards, taking part in a swim challenge or doing water aerobics, leisure centres are great places to meet new people.
The Colour Blue?
Now this final point may be a little ‘out there’, but just stick with me. While there is no concrete scientific proof that being in blue spaces improves or enhances mental wellbeing. Studies have had mixed results. But the colour blue is often thought of as calming and is abundant throughout the natural world – especially with the sky and the sea. You might also have heard of the term ‘biophilia’ which means love of nature and refers to our inbuilt desire to be near and connected with nature. The human body is made of about 70% water – no wonder, then, that many people feel drawn towards water and that being near the sea has a soothing influence on the mind. This phenomenon could explain why we feel positive and happy when we’re by the sea or near water.