Mental health has been in the shadows for a long time, and it’s only recently that mental well-being is being accorded the importance it deserves. One of the most prominent campaigners is The World Health Organization, proclaiming October 10th as the day for mental health. WHO’s campaign aims to spread the word about mental health, reducing the stigma around mental illness and encouraging people to speak up.
There are also efforts by other organizations around the world to do the same. But the question is, why the sudden interest in mental health? To answer that, let us look at some of the aspects of our lives it affects:
- Relationships with people
- Physical health
- Emotional well being
- Personal finances and budgeting
The Impact of Mental Health On Overal Well-being
Your mental health, like your physical health, is very important as both directly affect your quality of life. But, just like good physical health, good mental health is not always guaranteed — you have to commit to playing an active role in taking care of it.
Mental disorders such as depression and trauma are some of the leading causes of suicide. When things are not looking good, it is wise to seek medical help from a certified professional.
Fortunately, today, help is readily available, even online, meaning you can get help from organizations all around the country. Some organizations have built homes around the country to help people in need. In Texas, for example, you can visit theheightstreatment.com for treatment, which is an organization that deals with all manner of mental health treatments and addictions. Their treatment programs include medication and counseling, and they also have a drug rehab center for addicts. In other instances, you do not need professional help. All you need is a listening ear and encouraging words
Swimming for Mental Health: What Are the Benefits?
Keeping yourself active is a great way to improve your physical and mental health. This is because when you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins, which prompt a positive feeling in your body. It provides a natural high that reduces your pain while lightening your mood.
All forms of physical exercise have benefits, but some activities are more recommended than others, swimming being one of them. (It is frequently recommended by therapists and mental health coaches as a way to improve mental well-being and reduce stress.)
In 2012, Speedo, a swimwear brand, was commissioned for international research to establish if swimming did help reduce stress. The results showed that:
- 68% of participants said swimming positively impacted how they felt about themselves.
- 70% of the participants agreed that swimming was mentally refreshing.
- 74% of the participants agreed that swimming helped them release stress and tension from their work.
With that said, let us look at some of the ways swimming can help improve your mental health
1. Water has a naturally calming effect
In the best-selling book Blue Mind, marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols explores the transformative effect water in all forms has on our health and well-being. It explores the scientific evidence that proximity to a body of water has been shown to reduce your heart rate and calm your mind naturally. You might have experienced this phenomenon yourself after a day at the beach or a session in the pool! (There’s even some evidence you can reap these mental health benefits just by looking at a photo of water!)
Some say this effect is because 75% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and 60-70% of our bodies comprise water. Regardless, the bottom line remains the same — humans are naturally drawn to bodies of water and its calming effects.
2. It releases endorphins and serotonin
As mentioned earlier, swimming, like every other form of exercise, causes a release of feel-good hormones. When you swim, your brain increases the production of neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters include hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, which all have a positive effect on your mood.
Regular swimming leads to an increase in the production of these hormones, which results in better mood control and increased resilience to stress. It’s so effective that it even forms part of some addiction treatment programs.
3. It improves breath control, helping to reduce anxiety and panic attacks
One of the ways to deal with anxiety and panic attacks is to manage your breath to calm your parasympathetic nervous system (the controller of your fight or flight response). The most common technique is to take deep, slow breaths through your nose and out through your mouth. The deep breaths, with support from your stomach, act as a signal to your nervous system to calm down.
Swimming can help with this as it demands that you gain control over your breath. When swimming, you must take deep breaths and manage your air as you wait to inhale the next breath. This exercise helps you maintain a breathing pattern and keeps it even. Regular swimming will make breathing exercises easier, helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and giving you a way to manage panic attacks.
4. Swimming provides a controlled environment to practice micro-stress exposure
Anxiety disorders are common among adults in the US. According to research, 19% of the adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder. Research also established that the common causes of anxiety disorders in adults stem from money and work stress.
Swimming can help manage anxiety by creating a controlled environment in which to practice exposing yourself to micro-stresses. When swimming, you have to get comfortable with getting wet. You also have to get comfortable putting your head under water for extended periods while exercising. All these different steps force you to participate actively and decide what you are willing to do. Initially, it may be uncomfortable, but with enough practice, you will face your fears and swim.
Swimming in cold water can also be very effective at building resilience to stress and has been shown to help in treating depression.
5. Swimming increases blood flow to your brain
Studies have shown that being in water increases blood flow to your brain, even without combing the experience with water-based exercises like swimming. Blood flow to the brain is essential for many reasons as increase blood flow is linked to:
- protection from the accumulation of harmful toxins
- improved memory
- better cognitive functioning
- increased concentration spans
Besides beneficial hormone releases, swimming increases the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) level. The BDNF is a protein responsible for the growth, survival, and maintenance of neurons and can literally help reverse stress-induced brain damage by creating new neurons.
6. Swimming creates an escape
One of the recommended ways to deal with depression is exercising. Exercising for about 30 minutes three to five days a week can ease depression. However, not all forms of exercise let you truly escape and “switch off your brain”.
Exercises such as walking, running, and hiking can all be done subconsciously. They require little mind input. Swimming, on the other hand, is different as it demands your full attention and mental presence.
Swimming requires you to focus on your breathing, stroke technique, speed, and other swimmers. Mentally you have to be in the pool. Therefore, your mind has only one goal to focus on, and you are free from your worries.
7. Swimming creates social contact
Humans are naturally wired to be social. Research shows that loneliness increases the likelihood of developing depression, so maintaining social ties is essential for your mental health. Swimming can be a great way to spend time socially with friends and family or meet new people. It also doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Swimming in groups builds accountability and consistency, helping you to stay committed and giving you something to look forward to every week.
Swimming offers numerous benefits to your mental health and physical health. Regular swimming will help calm your mind, release endorphins, and helps to increase your lung capacity (it can even help repair the damage caused by smoking).
Mental disorders are a normal part of life, and we should create awareness in our different communities. People should not suffer in silence when treatment is available, so always seek professional help if/when you need it.
Author: Daniel Martin
Dan has had hands-on experience in digital marketing since 2007. He has built teams and coached others to foster innovation and solve real-time problems. Dan also enjoys photography and traveling.