Feeling Blue? Go for a Swim for These 6 Mental Health Benefits

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Proteeti Sinha, Swimming World College Intern.

Researchers have found that swimming promotes both physical and mental well-being; this isn’t news to anyone who regularly frequents the pool deck. But there are additional benefits that you may not be aware of that extend beyond the obvious. The increased blood flow strengthens the heart, increases aerobic capacity and makes our muscles stronger and more efficient. The sport of swimming itself teaches us lessons that extend far beyond the pool: teamwork, dedication, and will power to name a few. Through the sport, we find friends who will always have our backs and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Swimming regularly has a deeply positive impact on our mental health as well. It can act as an effective medicine for treating anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. The direct effect that swimming has on our brain leads to several mental health benefits, a few of which are explained below. You just might learn something new!

1. Endorphins and Serotonin

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A joyous Sarah Sjostrom, Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Any form of exercise, including swimming, causes the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones produced in the pituitary gland in response to stress or pain, kind of like a natural analgesic. These endorphins interact with receptors in our brain that reduce our perception of pain. Along with serotonin, endorphins bring about a sense of happiness, positivity and well-being. Research has also proven that regularly getting those feel-good hormones flowing (a.k.a. exercising) has deep mental health benefits and helps your body respond better to stress in general.

2. Takes Your Mind Off Things

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Photo Courtesy: Proteeti Sinha

When you swim, you have many things to keep your mind occupied: your breathing pattern, how many laps you’ve completed, and your proximity to other swimmers to avoid a collision. If you swim competitively, you also have to work on your stroke technique and speed to make your intervals. Keeping track of all of these factors means that you should have little space in your mind to think about your worries outside the pool. For a while, you get a respite from your daily concerns to focus on just swimming.

3. Breathing Regulation

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Katie Ledecky’s breath control in a race, Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

The ability to regulate your breathing is an integral aspect of swimming. When you’re stressed or panicked, you tend to take in shallower and more rapid breaths. This can lead to hyperventilation and possibly morph into a panic attack. However, the breathing pattern in swimming ensures that you take in enough air that can prevent the possibility of such attacks. It is a great workout for your lungs, as it forces you to inhale and exhale evenly. This in turn can help in lowering blood pressure, eliminating toxins from the body, and assisting in relaxation.

“Swimming styles like freestyle can help to regulate your breath, as you’re forced to take long, deep breaths in order to immerse your head beneath the water while cycling through the stroke. It’s the ideal workout for people who forget to breathe properly, as it encourages you to open up your lungs and inhale and exhale evenly.” -Press Association, Irish Examiner

4. Boosts Blood Flow

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Swimmer enjoys the relaxation of being immersed in water. Photo Courtesy: Pexels

A study by Carter et. al showed that just immersing yourself in water increases blood flow to the brain. This improves memory, mood, concentration and cognitive function in general. Studies have also shown that swimming can reverse brain damage from stress via hippocampal neurogenesis (i.e. creation of new neurons). A Psychology Today article details this finding.

“Of critical importance for mental health is the hippocampus—an area of the brain involved in memory, emotion regulation, and learning. Studies in other animals show convincingly that exercise leads to the creation of new hippocampal neurons (neurogenesis), with preliminary evidence suggesting this is also true in humans.” –Sarah Gingell

This means that the hippocampus can grow with exercise, increasing the brain’s oxygen supply. The nutrient supply to the brain also increases, which proves that swimming can actually effectively combat mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

5. Blue Mind Science

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The beautiful Icebergs – Bondi Beach, Photo Courtesy: Erin Himes

Blue Mind” is a term associated with water-related calm and peace. This science tells us that as humans, we are naturally drawn to blue space. This leads to a feeling of wellness and peace when we are in or around bodies of water. As water makes up 70 percent of our bodies and covers about 75 percent of the earth’s surface, our brains have an immediate positive response when we’re near water. Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, author of the best-selling book Blue Mind, says,

“Research has shown that being near, in, on or under water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body, including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts. Aquatic therapists are increasingly looking to the water to help treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, autism and more.”

Moreover, just mere contact with water or hearing water flow can induce a flood of neurochemicals that make us happier, healthier and less stressed out. Is it time for a beach day?

6. Mental Well-Being and Stress Relief

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Photo Courtesy: Olivia Stevenson

While we swim, almost all of the senses are engaged: sight, sound, touch and smell. It is one of the rare distractions from technology. In addition, the “screenless” atmosphere alleviates stress and encourages relaxation and creativity. Also, the feeling of water moving over our body creates a massage-like sensation. In short, swimming helps us release pent-up tension and also makes us more mindful of our surroundings.

How does swimming help your mental health?

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff. All research was conducted by the author.

21 comments

  1. avatar
    Anonymous

    Liked the breath regulation point. Hadn’t thought of that before

  2. avatar
    Shohini

    Thank you so much Proteeti for this wonderful article! Mental health truly matters, and articles like this are essential to bring that into focus. Keep writing!

  3. avatar
    Pradeep Divgikar

    Once again a well researched and very informative article. You have so beautifully listed the benefits of Swimming to the mind and body and wonderfully explained how our overall sense of well being is increased creating a joyful experience. Way to Go Proteeti! Keep them coming.

    • avatar
      Meena

      Excellent informative write up ..great going Proteeti👍

  4. avatar
    Ananya Biswas

    Learnt so many things. Thank you for this informative article.

    • avatar
      Mahashweta

      How nicely you have penned down the benefits….informative, reflective, lucid as well as enjoyable read….very well researched as well it seems! Keep it up Proteeti.

  5. avatar
    Arnab Majumdar

    Very informative

  6. avatar
    Subhajit Sinha

    Swimming as an exercise is a great way to deal with the ever increasing stress in our daily lives, it is possibly a great way to manage lifestyle diseases like hypertension and diabetes, and is a wonderful sport for people with arthritis.

  7. avatar
    Anonymous

    I never realised why I feel so calm and happy around a swimming pool…’Blue Mind’ it is! Fantastic, well researched article!

  8. avatar
    Biswaroop Ghosh

    informative and very well written

  9. avatar
    Dhiman

    Wish I had learnt the art of swimming!

  10. avatar
    Arup Gupta

    Great points… The floating effect also helps people with arthritis exercise without pain

  11. avatar
    Anandamoy

    Liked this article so much !! Very well researched and nicely explained..
    Keep going !!

  12. avatar
    Aroonava DasGupta

    Well researched , highly informative piece of writing

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      Proteeti, you have done an excellent job.
      I could learn many aspects of swimming.
      Thank you so much dear.
      Shall expect many more well researched articles like this one.
      .

  13. avatar
    Anonymous

    Enjoyed reading your well researched article covering so many aspects of swimming.

  14. avatar
    Anonymous

    Proteeti, you have done an excellent job.
    I could learn many aspects of swimming.
    Thank you so much dear.
    Shall expect many more well researched articles like this one.
    .

  15. avatar
    Mandira

    Congrats Proteeti!
    Such a well researched article.
    Keep it up.

  16. avatar
    Simrita J

    Great article!! Experience is the best teacher.
    Well explained!

  17. avatar
    Simrita J

    Great article!! Experience is the best teacher.
    Well explained! Loved it.

  18. avatar
    Angana

    Really interesting points . I found hippocampal neourogenesis and blue mind fascinating. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Time to hit the pool!