What happens to your brain when you swim?
One with the Water isn’t just our name. It’s a way of life, a love of movement. It means time spent at peace with the world and away from the chaos of our everyday moments. So what is it about swimming that transports us? We’d like to give you a quick refresher on all the ways swimming can renew, refresh and restore your mind.
It’s been definitively proven that sustained aerobic exercise is good for your body and brain. Swimming specifically has garnered a growing amount of scientists who are true believers in the power of swimming to positively affect your health, specifically your brain.
This is your brain on H2O
Four things to consider when examining the power of swimming on your brain and by extension, your body.
First: Extended aerobic swimming workouts release the natural compound endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals produced in your brain. Increased endorphin levels work to lower stress, increase pleasure, and reduce or manage pain. In addition, the release of endorphins can help to significantly lower anxiety and relieve depression.
“Swimming actually can help reduce depression for several reasons, one of which is that it helps stimulate production of brain chemicals that elevate mood and outlook,” Dr. David Coppel, director of neuropsychological services and Research at the University of Washington Sports Concussion program, told Medical Daily.
Second: Swimming boosts the blood flow to the brain. One 2014 study found that blood flow to the cerebral arteries increased between 9-14% depending on their location in the brain. What are the benefits of increased blood flow? Well, how about improved mood, better concentration and focus, and overall increased cognitive function.
Third: Swimming strengthens gross and fine motor skills for easier learning. Due to the specific bilateral motions used in swimming, the entire brain – all lobes and both hemispheres – are working in concert with each other. These movements help to develop the connecting tissue between the hemispheres and increase communication between the two halves of the brain. The result? Better cognitive function (again), and better learning ability. Additionally, a 2012 study discovered that children taught to swim at a young age hit developmental milestones consistently quicker than average. They displayed better coordination and increased fine motor skills like cutting paper, coloring in the lines, and other mathematically-related tasks. The applications are far reaching, ESPECIALLY for children with special needs.
Fourth: Swimming can potentially help reverse brain damage caused by stress! Recent studies show that swimming promotes the process known as hippocampal neurogenesis. In laymen’s terms, hippocampal neurogenesis is the regrowth of new brain cells in areas of the brain that atrophy under prolonged periods of stress. In order to for it to be effective though, the swimming session must be prolonged and sustained.
So hop in that lap pool, hit the open water, or sign up for your first swim lesson ever! Either way, we have the tools and you have the recipe for a better, healthier brain.
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Molly is a member of our creative team, mom of four water-loving babies, and a fierce advocate for CPR training and really early swim instruction.