It’s just you and the water.

From the first stroke, you feel the stress of the day washing off your body as the water flows over your skin. You feel weightless but powerful as you glide onwards. Your mind begins to clear.

It may have been difficult to get out of bed this morning, and it may have been difficult to plunge into the cool water, but now you wouldn’t trade this feeling for anything.

We all know that swimming is great exercise. But did you know that swimming is as good for your mind as it is for your body?

Photo by Nicole Reyes

Globally, about 450 million people are affected by mental or neurological disorders. One in four people will suffer from these conditions at some point during their lifetime. Chances are, either you or someone you know is personally familiar with mental health problems.

While nothing can take the place of professional care, swimming can be a valuable addition to your self-care routine. Swimming can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Even if you don’t suffer from a specific mental health concern, getting in the water can still improve your mood, reduce your stress, and help you unwind.

Photo by Jana Sabeth

Swimming in nature is even more beneficial. Read on to find out how swimming outside can work wonders for your mental health.

1. Swimming releases endorphins

Swimming prompts our brains to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Our nervous system produces endorphins to help us deal with pain or stress, and these compounds can alleviate pain, promote positivity, and boost one’s sense of wellbeing.

Photo by Jessica Wilson

Combine these endorphins with the restorative qualities of being in the natural world–waves crashing on the shore, birds singing, your daily dose of vitamin D–and you’re on your way to improving your mental state. You’ve probably heard of runner’s high, now get ready for swimmer’s high!

2. Swimming is good for your body, and a healthy body is good for the mind

Mental health is linked to physical health, and swimming is excellent for your fitness. It’s a cardio workout that engages your muscles while having a low-impact on your joints. It’s hard to feel good mentally when your body doesn’t feel good. Likewise, it’s hard to feel good physically when your brain doesn’t feel good.

Addressing both physical and mental health simultaneously can aid in breaking you out of this cycle. Swimming encourages you to appreciate what your body is capable of. This is particularly true of open water swimming.

Photo by Alejandra Ezquerro

In a lake, you can swim at your own rate and in your own space without thinking about counting laps or getting anyone’s way. There are few feelings as freeing and satisfying as looking back to see how far you’ve come from the shore.

3. Swimming is inclusive, accessible, and affordable

Because swimming is a low-impact exercise, it invites participants of all ages, fitness levels, and physical abilities, as well as those with injuries. Colder water is said to ease the pain of injuries, inflammation, and sore muscles. You may consider heading to the exhilarating waters of an outdoor swimming hole if you have physical ailments.

Photo by Stefan Tan

Another great thing about swimming? It’s a lot cheaper than a gym membership! You can swim for free in public swimming pools, or better still, in nature’s swimming pools: rivers, lakes, and oceans.

4. Swimming reduces stress and helps you relax

Swimming can feel like a kind of meditation, especially when you are surrounded by the tranquil natural beauty of a waterbody. Being around the colour blue is said to have a calming effect on our psyches.

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina

Swimming takes our minds off our worries by demanding our focus on the task at hand. Each stroke forward can make you feel like you are leaving your negative feelings behind.

Anxiety and stress can cause us to take rapid, shallow breaths, but swimming regulates our breathing, which can lower blood pressure and release tension. Swimming releases pent-up energy, making it easier to sleep at night.

5. Swimming can be a social activity

Note: During the COVID-19 outbreak, it is important to practice social distancing (by keeping a 6 foot or 2 meter distance from those not in your household) and follow the World Health Organization’s advice to the public. Whether or not you should go outside depends entirely on where you live and what regulations are in place. Familiarize yourself with your local regulations and remember that they may change day to day. If you can safely and legally go outside, always follow social distancing behaviours as well as the advice of health experts and local governments.

Humans are social beings, and connecting with others is important for our mental health. Sometimes, poor mental health can cause us to isolate ourselves. While you will benefit from the peaceful practice of swimming alone, you can also join a swimming club or go with a friend.

Photo by Duy Pham

Swimming with someone else is important for your safety if you’ll be swimming in the wild. Swimming can get you out of your comfort zone, and you may end up expanding your social circle.

Swimming improves mental health in a number of different ways, but nothing is as effective as speaking to someone who is trained to help. If you are suffering from mental health problems, there are resources available and better days may be closer than you think.

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