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.
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.
“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.
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.
How swimming can improve your mental well-being
Here’re 3 ways swimming improves your mental health:
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.
Featured photo credit: Sara García via unsplash.com