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.
Science has much to say about why we feel these positive effects, although more research is always needed. I spoke to the swimming experts from Compass pools who confirmed that swimming is indeed very beneficial for the mind, regardless of whether you’re on the beach, by a mountain lake or swimming in the pool in your garden.
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.
What’s more, scientific studies in rats have shown that swimming can help generate new brain cells in those parts of the brain where chronic stress has led to cell deterioration – it’s a process called hippocampal neurogenesis. While the research has not progressed far enough to be able to make any firm predictions for humans, it is just possible that swimming might enhance our ability to process stress more easily.
A recent study showed that being immersed in water boosts the blood flow to the brain. This increases the supply of oxygen, glucose and nutrients which would suggest a positive impact on brain health.
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.
Lower anxiety and depression
Regular swimming, even just half an hour at a time, is known to be effective for lowering incidences of depression and anxiety and improve sleep patterns. Swimming releases endorphins, the natural feelgood hormones that lead us to experience a greater sense of happiness and wellbeing.
While 1 in 6 people in the UK 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, ¾ agreed that water based activities helped release tension, while 68% of people felt being in the water made them feel happier in themselves.
For adults living with conditions such as dementia, swimming is a great way to improve memory, focus and concentration.
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.
Many leisure centres and public pools actively encourage the social part of the sport, whether it’s through competitive swimming events, during aquatics based exercise classes or relaxing over a cuppa in the café afterwards.
The colour blue
It’s not a hard scientific fact but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the colour blue, or being in blue spaces, improves mental wellbeing. Why? Blue is a soothing colour that affects us mentally. Pale blue tones, in particular, are said to calm the mind and aid concentration.
Blue is abundant throughout the natural world – it’s associated with water, the colour of the vast ocean and the endless sky. 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
Mike James is a writer based in Brighton published in numerous online and print magazines. Working with Compass Pools, Mike is aiming to help others like himself with advice concerning the positive mental health benefits of regular exercise, and in particular – swimming.
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