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We all know that swimming's great for the body. But there's more to being healthy than how your body performs.
So to mark this year's Stress Awareness Week, we've looked into some of the ways that swimming can help you deal with stress – and how it might be a better stress-busting exercise than other types of sports.
Ready to de-stress? Let's get started:
We've all felt the rush you get from sports – the feeling of working hard, strengthening your body, and improving your performance.
But it's not just the accomplishment itself that's making you feel good. Sports like swimming actually have a positive biological effect on your brain:
When you swim, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. They're a special type of hormone that act as a kind of natural painkiller. And just like lots of other painkillers, endorphins have another effect – and that's a feeling of euphoria.
(These happy brain chemicals are also helpful in improving your ability to sleep – and healthy sleep is another well-known way of reducing stress!)
Now here's the interesting part:
According to a YouGov poll commissioned by Swim England, almost half a million British swimmers with a mental health condition say they've reduced the number of visits to a medical professional as a result of their swimming.
And better yet: around the same number of people say they've been able to reduce the amount of medication they take for their conditions – or they've been able to stop completely.
We're not saying that swimming is a replacement for professional medical help. But if half a million people were able to feel better through swimming, that shows just how valuable a solid exercise routine can be in helping you deal with stress.
“Water is considered the elixir and source of life. It covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, makes up nearly 70% of our bodies, and constitutes over 70% of our heart and brains.
“This deep biological connection has been shown to trigger an immediate response in our brains when we’re near water. In fact, the mere sight and sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness, increase blood flow to the brain and heart, and induce relaxation.
Wallace Nichols, Marine Biologist and author of ‘Blue Mind’
There's something special about swimming. And it's not just the endorphins that you get from exercise – being in the water can have a huge effect on your mental health.
Swimming is one of the few sports where you're almost always horizontal, and that means your heart isn't fighting gravity to pump blood to all of your muscles. This low-intensity training gives you a full workout without the stress and pressure on your heart. And it makes your body more efficient at getting much-needed blood to your brain to keep it happy.
It's also one of the few sports where you're almost weightless. Even when you're working hard in the pool, you feel more free than you do on land. You're being constantly massaged by the rhythm and pressure of the water around you, and when you're underwater, you're in your own private bubble of silence.
And if you feel like getting in the pool helps you to de-stress and unwind, you're not alone:
According to a survey from Ipsos MORI, 74% of swimmers say that swimming helps to release stress and tension – and 70% agreed that it helps them to feel mentally refreshed.
Any kind of exercise can be a huge help in the fight against stress. And swimming is one of the most relaxing sports around.
But that doesn't make it a substitute for professional help.
So if you're having a hard time with stress (or you know someone who is), you can find out more and get the support you need through the official NHS Every Mind Matters website, or through the Mental Health Foundation.
(And if they tell you to get in the pool more often, that's just a happy bonus.)
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