Seven benefits of swimming for your mental wellbeing

Charlotte Vineham
Health Adviser at Bupa UK
25 October 2017

Imagine yourself beside the sea, watching the waves break upon the shoreline and embracing the warm sea breeze as you gaze at the horizon. Or imagine yourself at the spa, mesmerised by the light dancing across the pool surface and the cool, calm feel of the water as you swim.

Do you feel relaxed? Peaceful? Calm? There’s something very therapeutic about being in or near water. Here’s what science has to say about it.

What science says...

Scientific research has offered various reasons as to why we may feel these positive effects. More research still needs to be done to confirm some of these findings but the story so far is promising.

1. Releases endorphins

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.

2. Reduces stress

There’s a growing interest in the idea that swimming can reduce stress more so than other sports.

Furthermore, 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 this has only been tested in animals so far, the idea follows that this could potentially have the same effect in humans. It’s therefore suggested that swimming might enhance our ability to manage and cope with stress.

3. Soothing effects

It’s thought that swimming is a particularly good way to relax your body, soothe your mind and reduce anxiety. Some spas even play relaxing music that you can only hear when you put your head under the water!

4. Boosts 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.

5. Beach benefits

Findings have suggested that immersing yourself in natural water in the open air is particularly good for positive mental wellbeing. Some research has also found that those who live closer to the coast report higher levels of good health and wellbeing, though it’s not clear if this is definitely down to being by the sea. More research needs to be done.

6. Social hubs

Swimming is a form of exercise you can do by yourself, which is great because you can go when you want and you don’t have to rely on anyone else. Yet 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.

7. The colour blue

There’s 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 the sky and the sea on a beautiful day. 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. This phenomenon could explain why we feel positive and happy when we’re by the sea or near water.

My three key benefits

I take time out

Personally, taking some time out of my day and going for a swim is the best thing for me to do because it gives me a break from the hustle and bustle of my working day. Plus it gives me space to rejuvenate and refresh so that I have a more positive outlook for the day or week ahead.

I gain perspective

I find that swimming clears my head and helps me to think more rationally about decisions or choices I have to make. Otherwise I know that the stress can become too overwhelming and cause more damage than good. A swim helps me stay cool, calm and collected so that I can perform at my best, whether in a sporting competition or at work.

I tap into a sense of comfort

Being a competitive swimmer since a young age, I relish swimming length after length, following the same simple black line back and forth. It offers a sense of familiarity and comfort. For others, simply being in the water and having a gentle swim offers relief and transports them to a whole new world. This just highlights the wonder of swimming – how something so simple can create such a variation of feelings and effects between people.

What do other people say?

Conversations I’ve had with clients during their health assessments tell me I’m not the only one that gets real value out of swimming. Hearing their experiences and opinions firsthand really brings home just how much people rely on swimming for their own peace of mind. For example, some of my clients who have depression told me that swimming is an outlet for them and helps them to keep positive.

What does it mean to you?

Why not take some time to sit back and think about what swimming means for you? Is it something you used to do but no longer have time for? If you used to enjoy it, think about what it is that you liked about it, and why not reacquaint yourself with your local swim spot?

What next?

Check out your local leisure centre for swim times. Timetables are generally regular but they might change during the school holidays, so be sure to check out the term-time and holiday timetable to avoid disappointment. Want to challenge or improve your swimming? Get in touch with your leisure centre and take advantage of the adult swimming lessons they may have on offer.

Or take a look on voucher sites for some fab deals on spa days and maybe take a friend with you!

When swimming in the sea, make sure you keep safe, stay in your depth and be aware of riptides and strong currents. Be sure to put your safety first and swim in a lifeguarded area.

Other helpful websites

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Charlotte Vineham
Charlotte Vineham
Health Adviser at Bupa UK

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