Swimming is a great activity for people of all age groups. It’s also is an ideal way to maintain your mental health.
Swimming releases endorphins, which are the natural feel-good compounds thought to be helpful in managing stress and/or anxiety and mood. Swimming can even promote the growth of new brain cells in a part of the brain that atrophies or shrinks under chronic stress and help to absorb excess fight-or-flight stress hormones, converting anxiety into muscle relaxation. Numerous studies have found that swimming for just half an hour three times a week can lower stress levels, raise mood, lower incidences of depression and anxiety and improve sleep patterns. Sports psychologist Aimee C. Kimball, director of mental training at the Center for Sports Medicine at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center says “We know that swimming can significantly decrease both anxiety and depression” As reported in Medical Daily by Dr. David Coppel, Director of Neuropsychological Services and Research at the University of Washington “Swimming actually can help reduce depression for several reasons, one of which is that it helps stimulate production of brain chemicals that elevate mood and outlook,”
Besides these biochemical changes in the brain, swimming requires the alternating stretch and relaxation of skeletal muscles while breathing in a rhythmic pattern. If this sounds familiar, it’s because these are key elements of many practices, from hatha yoga to progressive muscle relaxation, used to calm and relax the body. Not only does swimming increase relaxation chemicals, it can also be used as a form of meditation. Without having to worry about traffic or other people, swimming allows you to focus on simply your strokes and breathing, effectively silencing unwanted thoughts.
The bilateral cross-patterning movements in swimming also help with the development of nerve fibers which connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain and facilitate communication between the two. Swimming activates both brain hemispheres and all four lobes of the brain simultaneously, which can lead to increased cognition.
After surveying the parents of 7000 under-fives from Australia, New Zealand and the US over 3 years, researchers at Griffith University found children who learn how to swim at a young age reached many developmental milestones earlier than the norm. These milestones included refining gross motor skills like coordination, and visual-motor skills such as cutting paper, coloring in and drawing lines and shapes, and many mathematically-related tasks.
If all these benefits weren’t enough, swimming and enjoying time in the water with others also enhances a community spirit and offers an opportunity to meet new friends. Spending time at the pool or the beach with friends and family increases shared memories and better mental health through social interaction and happy experiences.