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How Swimming Changes Your Brain And Makes You Mentally Healthier

How Swimming Changes Your Brain And Makes You Mentally Healthier

We all know how relaxing a good swim can be. It allows more oxygen to flow to the muscles and forces you to regulate your breathing. Swimming is also a great way to reduce stress. Swimming underwater is like being in another world. The water distorts the sky above, casting the sun’s reflection into an almost ethereal pattern on the bottom of the pool. It’s no wonder swimming can put you into an ideal mental space.

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    How does the brain react while swimming?

    Swimming is a meditative exercise. Your brain function improves via a process known as hippocampal neurogenesis, where your brain replaces lost cells resulting from stress. When you hit the water, your mood is lifted immediately from the coolness of the water, leaving you free from tiredness and depression.

    A recent study by Dr. Howard Carter of University of Western Australia, School of Sport Science shows how the brain reacts during swimming. The team of scientists, led by Carter , hypothesized that water immersion to the level of the right atrium in the heart would increase the delivery of blood within the brain. The right atrium is located on the upper right hand side of the heart and is one of four hollow chambers of the heart. The right atrium receives blood from two large veins: the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava. The job of both of these veins is to return blood that has provided oxygen to various sites in the body; the returning blood, then, is low in oxygen. The coronary sinus, which is a smaller vein in the wall of the heart, also drains blood into the right atrium.

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    We found that brain blood flow is higher when subjects were immersed in water up to the level of the heart compared to on land — laying the ground work for further investigation of its effects on cerebrovascular health,” said Dr. Howard Carter in The American Journal of Physiology.

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      While the participants were immersed in water, blood flow to their middle cerebral arteries increased by 14 percent while blood flow to their posterior cerebral arteries increased by nine percent.

      “As with land-based exercise, different types of water-based activities, such as water aerobics and swimming, have slightly different effects on heart function and cerebral blood flow,” said Carter.

      Moreover, swimming can improve your mental well-being…

      • It can help you to shut out external stimuli: Once you immerse yourself into the water, outside sounds are cut off. The only thing you feel is the water against your skin. You focus on your breathing, the bottom of the pool, and the ease of the water. Things are simplified when you’re swimming. It’s a form of moving mediation.
      • It’s a great form of low impact exercise: Gliding through the water gets your heart pumping. It’s also great for your muscles and lungs, as well as having low impact on your joints. When you take care of your body, your emotional well-being is greatly improved. Swimming a few times a week is a great way to exercise and improve your mood.
      • It releases endorphins: A good swim workout releases natural feel good compounds called endorphins. It can also convert excess fight-or-flight stress hormones into muscle relaxation. New brain cell growth is promoted as a result of releasing the stress.

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      Melissa Atkinson

      Freelance writer

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      Last Updated on January 5, 2021

      15 Fitness Goals That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life This Year

      15 Fitness Goals That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life This Year

      Starting a journey with fitness goals is never easy, and you must remember this is not a crash diet; it is a lifestyle. Don’t panic and think you have to do it all at once, as this will most likely overwhelm you. You may also find yourself giving up because crash diets are not sustainable.

      The best approach is to make simple changes to your daily habits, and over time, you will notice all your bad habits have turned into good ones.

      Accordingly to a study by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, on average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.[1] And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.

      Here are 15 fitness goals to help you on your journey:

      1. Drink More Water

      W.H. Auden said it best when he said,

      “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

      With any diet, the most important thing to remember is to stay hydrated. Drinking water will support your body with digestion, transporting nutrients to your bones and muscles, and even improving cognitive function.

      Ideally, you want to drink about half your body weight in ounces per day, i.e. if you weight 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water a day.

      2. Add Some Lemon and Apple Cider Vinegar to Your Water

      It is recommended we sleep for about 8 hours a day, but this means we spend about 8 hours per day dehydrated. Therefore, hydrating your body first thing in the morning is absolutely necessary.

      The best way to achieve hydration is by starting your day with a glass or even two of water. For that extra boost, add lemon juice and ½ teaspoons of apple cider vinegar. The lemon and apple cider vinegar will help your body with detoxifying, cleansing, and digestion.

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      3. Stop Drinking Your Calories

      Yes, keeping hydrated is important, but try to avoid high-calorie drinks, such as soft drinks, specialty coffee, and juices as they are full of fast-acting sugar.

      Really push yourself to stop drinking such drinks, and before you know it, you will notice the benefits.

      4. Start Stretching More Often

      The benefits are vast and the repercussions of failing to stretch can be dramatic.

      Do yourself a favor and always stretch before and after a workout. This will promote a healthy cool down, improve flexibility, and reduce next day aches. Failure to stretch can lead to injures and muscle damage.

      Here’re some simple stretching exercises to get you started: 15 Static Stretching Exercises to Totally Enhance Your Workout Routine

      5. Add in Some High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

      You may have heard about HIIT training because it is the big thing right now, and believe me when I say that it works and should absolutely be included in your fitness goals.

      The benefits include lower body fat, increased stamina, leaner muscles, and fantastic hormonal benefits.

      HIIT is where you perform an intense exercise for a very short time frame (about 30 seconds), followed by a slower exercise for about 90 seconds.

      Performing a HIIT routine for 1-3 times a week will lead to great results.

      6. Focus on Your Breathing When You Work Out

      For the most part, breathing is second nature, but when exercising, you may find yourself holding your breath, and this can have negative consequences.

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      It is important to consciously take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, as this will fill your lungs with oxygen and give you the necessary energy to continue your workout.

      7. Build More Lean Muscle

      We all want to have lean muscles. Not only does it look good, but it also has great health benefits, including:

      • Improved posture
      • Reduced body fat
      • Improved metabolism
      • Strong bones
      • Protects and improves joint health
      • Improved stamina

      You can build lean muscle by lifting weights or through other specific exercises. Learn more about building muscle in this guide: How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle and Increase Fat Loss?

      8. Decrease Body Fat

      This may seem like an obvious one, but it is one of the most important steps to a healthier you. Reducing your body fat has a lot of benefits such as:

      • Improved joints and tendons
      • Lowered risk of diabetes
      • Reduced risk of heart disease
      • Reduced inflammation
      • Better performance and endurance
      • Improved appearance and confidence
      • Better hormonal profiles in your body

      Remember, it is not a race to see how quickly you can decrease your body fat. Healthy weight loss is around 1-2 pounds a week for your fitness goals.[2]

      Crash dieting or pushing yourself too much in the gym can lead to you achieving an unrealistic target, and you may find yourself gaining all the weight you have lost.

      Think of it as a lifestyle, and take it slow and steady.

      9. Eat More Greens

      What you eat is the most important factor in a healthier living plan. It is important to ensure you are getting as many nutrients and vitamins from the food you are eating as possible.

      Focus on dark, leafy greens, as they will provide you with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants—all of which you body needs!

      Don’t forget to avoid processed and manufactured food. They are usually high in fat and have minimal vitamins.

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      10. Start Eliminating Sugar

      Another top goal you can start immediately is reducing the amount of sugar you consume. It also won’t cost you anything, and will save you money and improve your health in the long run.

      There’s no surprise we eat too much sugar, and this should be one of your top fitness goals moving forward. Cutting out liquid calories is a great way to start. If you’re looking for something sweet, turn to fruits or even dark chocolate.

      Be careful to eliminate sugar from your diet slowly. Cutting it out all at once can cause symptoms of sugar withdrawal, which can drive you back to sugary snacks[3].

      Common symptoms of sugar withdrawal

        11. Allow Yourself to Rest and Recover

        The workout is where you go to break down muscle tissue, and it builds back through proper nutrition, rest, and recovery[4]. It might be tempting to go to the gym for two hours every day as hard as you can to achieve your goals, but that’s not the most effective approach.

        If you don’t allow for proper rest and recovery, it can set you back a few steps. Your body is more prone to injury and even illness as you can weaken your immune system from all the progressive intensity the body is facing.

        12. Get More Sleep

        When you are deprived of sleep, you make it next to impossible to achieve your health and fitness goals. Lack of sleep can increase stress hormones in your body, and over time these can lead to inflammation and chronic diseases.[5]

        Make sleep a priority to let your body heal and rejuvenate. A good approach is 7 to 8 hours. Also, allow yourself some wind-down time and a pre-bed routine to help get more consistent sleep every night.

        13. Focus on the Habit, Not the Result

        It’s easy to get caught up in trying to achieve a certain look or shed time off of your mile, but the more important focus is on the habit that will bring you closer to those fitness goals.

        Don’t look at the scale, the tape measurer, or the body fat percentage. Focus on the habits that will lead to those achievements.

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        Don’t compare yourself to where others are; you’re right where you need to be.

        14. Take Your Fitness Outside

        This may be hard depending on the weather you experience, but the more you can be outside exposed to fresh air and sunlight, the better.

        Being stuck in the gym doing cardio while staring at a wall won’t do much for your mental stimulation.

        Try to challenge your body more by getting outside. Hiking is great and also just running and walking. Give yourself more access to nature and a constantly changing environment. It also beats breathing in that recycled gym air.

        15. Do at Least One Pull Up

        This is a great last goal to focus on because it’s a great test of strength and to see how you are progressing with your fitness.

        If you haven’t been able to do one, you know what a challenge it can be. Having the goal of doing at least one pull up will not only show you how far you’ve progressed, but it is a great way to become dedicated and motivated.

        The Bottom Line

        These fitness goals will become more attainable through the year if you’re consistent with your fitness. Set yourself a concrete timeline for when you want to accomplish some or all of these in order to create realistic goals in the short term. In fact, start making one of these goals happen this month!

        More on Setting Fitness Goals

        Featured photo credit: Ivan Torres via unsplash.com

        Reference

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