When was the last time you skipped your gym workout, pulled on a swimsuit and went for a leisurely dip instead?
If the answer isn’t in recent memory, you may want to rethink your exercise plan, as a recent YouGov poll revealed that over a million UK adults say swimming improves their mental wellbeing.
Mental health benefits of swimming
Swimming is a great all-round exercise that has multiple health benefits including improved muscle tone and strength along with helping to maintain a healthy weight, heart and lungs. Swimming has a positive effect on our mental health too.
Over 1.4 million of us believe regularly going for a swim has significantly reduced the symptoms of mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
The research, commissioned by Swim England, also found that nearly half a million (497,400) British people say they’ve reduced the number of times they’ve visited their GP about their mental health issues since they took up the sport. And over 497,000 people have reduced, or no longer take medication for their condition, as a result of regular pool sessions.
Around 3.3 million British adults with mental health problems swim regularly, yet many of us are still in the dark about its mood-boosting benefits.
“We all know that doing physical activities like swimming is good for our bodies. However, our physical health and mental health are closely linked, and being physically active can also be very beneficial for our mental health,” says Hayley Jarvis, head of physical activity for Mind.
“If you’re more active, there’s good evidence to suggest that at most ages, there’s a trend towards lower rates of depression. In fact, one study has found that by increasing your activity levels from doing nothing, to exercising at least three times a week, you can reduce your risk of depression by up to 30%.”
What are some of the benefits of swimming?
Here are just a few reasons why you should take to the water this year.
1. You can set your own pace
“Physical activity in any form can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health, but swimming is unique because the buoyancy of water ensures everyone is able to take part at a pace that suits them,” says Ian Cumming, chairperson of the Swimming and Health Commission. “This is why it’s particularly good for people with restricted movement.”
“Low-impact exercise like swimming, is great for our bodies,” agrees Elaine McNish, head of health and wellbeing at Swim England. “For some people, spending 30 minutes three times a week in the pool gives them a major sense of accomplishment. For others, time in the water away from their phone and the stresses of everyday life helps them to hit the reset button and face the world feeling stronger.”
2. Being in the water is therapeutic
“Research shows that simply being in water can be restorative,” says Cumming. “People relax in many different ways – some set a target and aim to beat their time while others prefer a more leisurely swim on their own or with friends. Swimming provides that choice, and if it’s regularly prescribed alongside other forms of support, it could have a real impact on wider society.”
3. It releases feel-good endorphins
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in the body. An early morning swim can give you a feel-good buzz that can keep you positive and motivated until lunchtime.
In fact, when asked about the impact of swimming on their day-to-day life, 43% of regular swimmers in the YouGov survey said it makes them feel happier, while 26% are more motivated to complete daily tasks and 15% believe life feels more manageable.
4. It soothes stresses
It’s thought that swimming is a particularly good way to relax your body, soothe your mind and reduce anxiety. Not only will it stimulate mood-boosting hormones, but the solo nature of swimming gives you the opportunity to clear your mind and be at one with your thoughts. As a solo activity you can tune out the outside noise – it’s a bit like moving meditation or doing yoga in the water.
5. It’s an opportunity to explore nature
Many people who live by the coast choose to swim in the sea, and studies have found that bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit your mental wellbeing. In fact, a 2016 report published by Natural England found that taking part in nature-based activities helps people who are suffering from mental ill-health and can help to reduce levels of anxiety, stress, and depression.
Love to try wild swimming? Discover 14 of the best UK and Ireland wild and open air swimming locations.
6. It gives you space to breathe
On average, we breathe anything between 12-20 breaths a minute, but when you’re stressed or anxious, there’s a tendency to breathe in your upper lungs with shallow, rapid breaths, instead of breathing into your lower lungs. When you breathe short, shallow breaths, it can encourage some of the worst symptoms of anxiety: Hyperventilation and panic attacks.
Swimming styles like freestyle can help to regulate your breath, as you’re forced to take long, deep breaths in order to immerse your head beneath the water while cycling through the stroke. It’s the ideal workout for people who forget to breathe properly, as it encourages you to open up your lungs and inhale and exhale evenly.
Read more on improving your health with 5 healthy lifestyle habits that could add a decade to your life.