6 Positive Mental Health Benefits Of Swimming

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The percentage of people in the UK suffering from mental health issues has significantly increased within the last decade, with Mind reporting that 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues every year.

Experts recommend regular exercise to benefit your mental state and reduce symptoms of depression and anxieties, NHS England claims that: “evidence also shows exercise can improve your mental wellbeing by raising your self-esteem, helping you to set goals or challenges and achieve them and causing chemical changes in your brain which can help to positively change your mood.” There is evidence for swimming being particularly beneficial to your mental health. A recent YouGov poll commissioned by Swim England (2018) discovered that “1.4 million adults in Britain significantly reduced the symptoms of anxiety or depression through swimming.”

The mental health benefits of swimming are truly positive. There is something therapeutic about being in or around a body of water; many picture a tropical beach or relaxing spa as their ideal state of serenity. Keeping active is extremely beneficial to both mental and physical health, but there is some serious science behind why swimming specifically is great for your mind, as well as your body due to the endorphins released while exercising.

In this article we’ll discuss the main ways that a regular swimming session can benefit your mental health, as well as tips for swimmers that experience mental health issues and some things to avoid.

Let’s dive in!

6 Ways Swimming Helps Your Mental Health

1. The Colour Blue

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that being in blue toned spaces improves mental health and wellbeing. The theory of ‘blue mind’ says we are naturally drawn to blue spaces. Blue is often considered a soothing colour which boosts concentration and relaxes the mind. This is perhaps because the colour blue is commonly associated with nature, in particular the sea and the sky, therefore symbolising serenity.

Being surrounded by the colour blue often triggers an immediate positive response to our minds, therefore being surrounded by those blue tiles of your local swimming pool benefits you just as much as putting in the work and doing laps of the pool itself.

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, author of the book Blue Mind, suggests that: “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”.

2. Releases Endorphins

All forms of exercise, including swimming, cause your body to release endorphins that interact with receptors in the brain to trigger a positive feeling and significantly reduce the feeling of pain and stress. The euphoric feeling after completing a workout, commonly referred to as “runner’s high”, explains why experts often state that you can “never have a bad workout.”

Achieving a “runner’s high” after working out will encourage your body to crave that positive feeling in the future, overall acting as a motivator to workout more regularly.

The regular release of endorphins significantly improves mental health and helps your body respond better to stress; Anxiety UK recognise that physical activity is proven to lead to a “30% improvement in self-worth, increasing general satisfaction in life.”

3. It’s a Social Hub

While swimming is typically a solo sport and can for the most part be completed without the need for a team, leisure facilities such as swimming pools act as a social space for participants to spend quality time with friends or meet new people.

Swimming facilities also often schedule regular clubs or group classes such as aqua aerobics and water yoga.

Socialising is proven to have several positive impacts, which makes it one of the key parts of the mental health benefits of swimming :

  • Improved confidence and self esteem – spending quality time with our loved ones helps us feel valued.
  • Increased brain health – socialising boosts cognitive brain function through interacting with our peers; taking part in conversations exercises the brain.
  • Reduces the risk of dementia – a lack of social interaction can increase cognitive decline and makes a person twice as likely to develop a form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.

While socialising is currently not recommended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning many group fitness classes are being postponed, the social benefits of swimming are a great excuse to visit your local swimming pool in the future.

4. Swimming Helps Stress Relief

Whilst exercise may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering relaxation techniques, the low intensity nature of swimming is proven to act as a stress relief. Bupa recognise that: “Studies in rats have found that swimming can help to promote the growth of new brain cells in parts of the brain which break down during chronic (long-term) stress.” Although studies haven’t been conducted on humans just yet, it is thought that swimming has a similar effect on us.

The regular rhythm of swimming strokes, paired with the lapping of the water is somewhat meditative. The water hitting your skin can feel just as good as a massage, demonstrating why aqua therapy is commonly used for fitness rehabilitation.

Moreover, in a modern world where we are so reliant on our mobile phones and other technological devices, it is often tempting to scroll through our social media feeds in between sets during a gym workout, or drown out the sounds of nature with our latest music playlist whilst out for a run. We are never fully focused on the activity or the atmosphere.

While technology is rapidly evolving and water resistant mobile phones are quite common, for the most part, swimmers leave their mobile phones in their lockers, meaning swimming is an “in the moment” sport. Participants are free from distractions of the outside world as they leave their worries (and their phones) in the changing rooms and the screenless setting helps us be more mindful of our surroundings.

5. Boosts Blood Flow

A study conducted by Carter et. al showed that submerging yourself in water boosts blood flow to the brain which can help to improve your memory, concentration and your mood.

In the study, participants were immersed in water up to their heart. Data recorded showed that blood flow to the brain was higher compared to on land; blood flow to middle cerebral arteries increased by 14 percent and blood flow to posterior cerebral arteries increased by around 9 percent.

The findings demonstrated that part of the brain’s structure has potential to grow as a result of exercising and as a result, the oxygen supply to the brain can increase, allowing the brain to receive more nutrients.

Regardless of water depth, it’s likely we will still see some increase in blood flow to the brain, since swimming is mostly a horizontal activity. This suggests no matter your level of swimming experience, just being submerged in the water is enough to benefit your mental state.

6. Swimming Creates a Routine

Having regular private swimming lessons or making a pact with yourself to visit the pool two or three times a week can have some seriously positive mental health benefits, as well as helping you reach your fitness goals.

Having a specific time to dedicate to swimming every week helps to establish a routine or a schedule which can help to boost morale. After completing your swim session you will feel accomplished and productive, like ticking another thing off your to-do list.

A great way to ensure you stick to your routine, even when lacking in motivation, is to buddy up with someone who also enjoys swimming. Have regular lessons together or simply organise to meet up at your local swimming pool at a specific time each week. This way, you’ll be more inclined to go so that you don’t let your partner down.

How Often Should I Swim To Benefit My Mental Health?

Health experts suggest that 20-30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week is ideal in order to see serious results in terms of both your mental and physical health, NHS England claim that: “evidence also shows exercise can improve your mental wellbeing by raising your self-esteem, helping you to set goals or challenges and achieve them and causing chemical changes in your brain which can help to positively change your mood.” However if you are already experiencing a battle with your mental health, this may not be realistic.

To begin with, try to exercise for around 20 minutes, two or three days a week and incorporate swimming into your lifestyle by making it one of those sessions. Gradually increase the time you spend working out.

Tips For Swimmers With Mental Health Issues:

Start Small

Throwing yourself into something new and unfamiliar can be a stressful experience, especially for someone suffering from mental health issues. Ease yourself into swimming by attending once a week or every two weeks until you become familiar with a new surrounding and new activity.

Private Swimming Lessons

Some swimming facilities organise regular private swimming lessons tailored to people suffering from mental health issues. Find your nearest Swim Now location here.

Buddy Up

You’re more likely to feel confident and comfortable in an unfamiliar situation if you attend with a friend. Make sure to go with someone who understands your condition and your needs that can support you.

Things To Avoid When Swimming With Mental Health Issues:

  • Peak times – If you feel stressed or uncomfortable in large crowds, it’s best to only attend swimming sessions during off-peak times. Quieter times tend to be early morning or later at night, with busier occasions usually being the 5-7pm, after work rush and weekends. Your local swimming facility should have timetables available demonstrating when their busiest sessions are.
  • Over-exercising – while swimming is proven to have some great benefits on your body and your mind, developing an ‘addiction’ or becoming obsessive over exercise can have more damaging effects.

I really hope you have found this article about the mental health benefits of swimming useful and it encourages you to get into the pool! If you are tempted to try swimming but don’t know where to start, we offer a 1 to 1 swimming lessons in peaceful locations across the United Kingdom. Find out more here.

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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