A dip in the pool feels great and the question is why? Why does your mind feel refreshed after a swimming lesson? How does swimming affect your mental health? Research demonstrates that exercise positively impacts our mental health. So let’s dive into the world of neuroscience and find out why our brains love swimming as much as our bodies do!
Swimming and Mental Health – The Science
Scientists have been discovering the benefits of exercise on mental health for years. A few of the benefits include decreased depression, stress and anxiety. Studies have found that 20-40 minutes of exercise improve mood and anxiety for several hours! What is going on here?
The Runners High Hypothesis
There are a few hypotheses researchers have come up with to explain this natural phenomenon. First, increased endorphins, known as the “runners high” come into play. Endorphins are essentially the body’s natural painkillers and help the body cope with prolonged pain or stress. The runners high show activation of these endorphins and creates a sense of euphoria when performing an intense activity, such as swimming. While it is not definitively known why this happens, what we do know is that runners high make us feel great!
The Neurotransmitter Hypothesis
The neurotransmitter hypothesis finds that serotonin is a neurotransmitter that impacts mood, sleep and appetite. A serotonin imbalance is part o depression, which is treated with medications such as selective serotonin reuptake, inhibitors or SSRIs. Studies have shown that exercise also increases levels of serotonin and improves depressive symptoms. In other words, swimming can work the same way as anti-depressants!
The HPA Axis Hypothesis
Lastly, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is important for regulating your body’s natural stress response. When your body is experiencing uncontrollable stress, anxiety or depression, the axis is releasing a chemical called cortisol. This makes us feel tense, anxious and stressed, among other biological effects. Exercise slows down the HPA’s reaction to stress and makes us feel better!
Swimming and Dementia
Researchers are discovering a link between exercise and dementia. Studies involving individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease have shown that regular exercise may have a protective effect on cognition. It might even decrease the risk of developing the disease! Research shows that exercise affects our immediate mental health. Additionally, our cognitive abilities are better later in life.
So let’s think about this! What does this mean? Exercise improves both our mental and physical and mental health. Regular exercise can help us live long and healthy lives. It can also reduce our risk for future mental illness! So spray that sunscreen, grab your suits and towels and jump in the pool! Your brain will thank you later.