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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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      Published on November 21, 2019

      7 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Workout

      7 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Workout

      Maybe you like going on walks in your neighborhood or hiking in the park, taking in the sights and sounds of nature. Or, perhaps you like to push yourself with spin classes and work up a real sweat. It could be that basketball at a local recreation league is your thing. And even though you enjoy these activities and you like the way you feel when you are doing them, somehow lately, you haven’t been able to muster up the energy to participate.

      There’s a “catch-22” that often happens when you’re wanting to work out, but you are not in the mood. Working out will boost your mood[1] and make you feel better, but because of your current mood, you don’t want to work out. Does this conundrum sound familiar?

      Anyone can get stuck in this rut from time to time. It could be that work has been taking too much out of you, or your family and personal commitments are eating up a lot of your time and energy. You’ve got to find a way to break out of this cycle. Getting your groove back requires finding a way to getting back to working out; you need a way to get started again.

      How can you get started? Use one of the following hacks to get you back on track. Find one or two of the ideas on this list that speak to you and that you think you can easily implement. Once you get your workout mojo back, you’ll be surprised at not only how much better you can feel in a short amount of time, but how much better everything will seem.

      Here are 7 ways to motivate yourself to work out:

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      1. Don’t Get Sucked into the Black Hole of the Couch

      As soon as you come in the door from work, get your workout clothes on and hit the door. If you sit down on the comfy sofa, it will take more fortitude to get yourself going. Think of your sofa as quicksand and don’t get pulled into the trap.

      It’s a simple law of physics — Newton’s first law:[2] an object at rest tends to stay at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion. You can come nestle into the comfy couch after your workout. But first, while you’re in motion from your day, stay in motion and your get your workout in.

      2. Find an Accountability Partner

      Studies show that having an accountability partner greatly increases your exercise frequency and success.[3] Talk to some of your friends and find someone who is interested in your same schedule. Maybe you have a friend who would love to hike early morning before work, or maybe you know someone that would like to hit a dance class right after work ends. Knowing that you have to meet someone else will make you think twice about blowing off your workout.

      You don’t have to have all your workouts include your partner, but even if you meet this person once a week, that will give you a boost to want to keep your workout going on other days. If you really feel that you need an accountability partner all the time, then find 2-3 people and meet them 2-3 times a week.

      One caveat: if your accountability partner cancels on you, be prepared for that and keep to your schedule. Everyone has things come up every now and then, but if you find your partner is frequently trying to cancel or reschedule, you probably need to find a new partner.

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      3. Or, Make Yourself an Accountability Partner

      Commit to 30 days of an exercise plan. Look at your calendar and plan out which days and times you are going to work out, including what that workout will be. Allow yourself two “do-overs” for random life events or illness, but only two.

      For example, let’s say you have on your calendar that you are going to go to a spin class after work on a Tuesday, but a family member calls whose car broke down and you have to go assist. You will rearrange that date of your spin class and find a different date to put it on the calendar, but you only want to do that for necessary external life events. Hitting the snooze button because you woke up too tired isn’t a good excuse.

      If you can stick to 30 days of this plan, it should feel more like a habit and be simpler going forward as you reap the benefits of feeling better, mood boost, and more energy.

      4. Integrate Some Mini-Movement into Your Day

      If you go into work and sit at a desk most of the day, it will feel good to get out and move your muscles afterwards. But sometimes it seems difficult to get out of that sedentary rut. One solution is staying in touch with your body all throughout the day.

      Set a few timers on your phone during the day, and when they go off, take a few minutes to do different physical movements. Stretching, doing forward bends or side bends are some ideas. You can stand against the wall and “peel” off of it, feeling each vertebra and releasing your lower back.Take off your shoes and wiggle your toes around. Do calf raises, standing up and lifting your heels up and down.

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      These small movements done 2-3 times throughout your workday may seem insignificant, but they will keep your attuned to your physical self a bit more, so that you will be more motivated to have some bigger, longer, “real” workout sessions. Think of them as appetizers and your workout is the big meal.

      5. Eat Something Fresh

      Speaking of big meal, what we eat and drink is related to how we feel. So if you’re not eating particularly well these days, commit to at least eating one fresh item daily. Maybe you have an apple as an afternoon snack. Perhaps you fix a nice salad to go along with your dinner.

      Sometimes, we’re so busy on the run that we don’t realize we’ve not been eating as fresh as we’d like. By making the conscious choice to seek out some fresh food, you’re taking care of yourself which in turn will make you think about those same kinds of choices when it comes to exercise. Another benefit is that if you’re eating well, you may feel “lighter” and have more energy to work out.

      6. Create an Alter Ego

      It may sound kind of crazy at first, but employing the use of an alter ego can be a great way to break out of a habit or create some life changes you desire. In his book The Alter Ego Effect, Todd Herman illustrates how an Alter Ego is a mental trick to improve your life. Many famous entertainers have used alter egos to overcome stage fright.

      How could this work for you? You may be too tired to work out at the end of the day, but your alter ego isn’t. Let’s say you create a character named “Ironman.” Sure, when you come in from a long day at work, you can talk yourself into wanting to relax on the couch. But Ironman doesn’t feel that way — he’s ready to throw on his sneakers and go for a run!

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      7. Water, Water Everywhere

      Sometimes the simplest rules are the most important. We all know we are supposed to be hydrated throughout the day. But if you’re busy all day at work, and you’ve nursed a big tumbler of coffee all morning, suddenly it might be early afternoon and you realize you haven’t had any water today.

      Drinking water boosts mood and decreases fatigue.[4] These two factors will help you in your quest to find the motivation for your workout.

      Make sure you’re getting your water intake all throughout the day, and if you’ve had coffee, drink some extra water to counteract the dehydrating effect of it.

      Final Thoughts

      So, how are you planning to get going this week? Go pour yourself a big glass of water, get out your calendar, and think about what types of workouts you want to do.

      Whether you call a friend and ask him/her to be an accountability partner, or whether you sketch out an alter ego for yourself so you can harness your power, you can use a hack to get you back on the track of being motivated to work out.

      You know how good you feel when you do, so give yourself that gift. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow — go get your sneakers on!

      Featured photo credit: Jonathan Borba via unsplash.com

      Reference

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