Swimming is one of the rare sports you can do from cradle to grave. No matter your age or ability, you can challenge yourself in a zero-gravity environment that’s easy on the joints. And that’s just the start of our list of swimming’s amazing perks.
From stress relief to better memory, swimming is also incredible for your brain! Scientists are still working on exactly why swimming is so great for the brain and body, but early research shows quite a few promising benefits.
1. Creates New Brain Cells
If you’ve ever heard that swimmers are great students, this is why! Swimming supports the creation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a compound that helps repair brain cells and supports the growth of new ones. BDNF improves your brain’s neuroplasticity, which can improve your cognitive function, including learning and memory.
Aerobic workouts in general (cycling, running, etc.) support BDNF production, too.
Swimming engages your brain in a few different ways, from having to do quick math to keep track of intervals to the extreme focus required to master a new drill, this sport puts your brain to the test!
2. Better Mental Health
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and thankfully swimming provides numerous mental health benefits:
- Reduce Stress: When your body is high in cortisol (stress hormone), it triggers your fight-or-flight response. Swimming can help reduce cortisol levels because it mimics the “flight” part of fight-or-flight, bringing your hormone levels down.
- Increase Serotonin: Aerobic exercise like swimming causes the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin, which can help combat anxiety, depression and stress.
- Boost Endorphins: Swimming increases blood flow, which can result in the release of endorphins. Endorphins are a hormone that acts like a natural pain reliever. The “runner’s high” that many people experience after running is due to endorphins!
3. Improves Memory
Early research has shown that swimming can boost memory in people of all ages:
- Kids & Vocabulary Words: One study found that kids 6-12 remembered more vocabulary words after 3 minutes of swimming than 3 minutes of coloring or Crossfit.
- Growing Hippocampus: Remember how BDNF helps repair and grow new brain cells? It has the largest effect in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory
4. Better Sleep
Most swimmers know the joy of a post-swim nap. There’s nothing like it! Swimming tires out the entire body, making for a restful night’s sleep.
During sleep, the body gets rid of waste products in the brain. When you don’t sleep well, the body can’t do this, leaving you groggy.
5. Increased Blood Flow
A 2014 study found that submerging yourself in the water up to the level of your heart increased blood circulation to the brain by 14%. This helps remove waste products from the brain, allowing it to work more efficiently as you swim.
6. Better Brain Function
We know that physical activity can keep your mind sharp as you age, but some studies have found that swimming can help kids’ brains, too!
- Older Swimmers: A study on older adults found that swimmers had better cognitive ability than non-swimmers.
- Cognitive Function: A similar study was done on young adults with the same result. Just 20 minutes of breaststroke swimming was found to improve cognitive function in kids.
- Cognitive Milestones: Study at Griffith University in Australia found that kids who learn to swim younger reach cognitive milestones up to 10 months faster than kids who don’t know how to swim.
All these brain benefits are wonderful, but at the end of the day, swimming makes you feel happier, more focused, and less stressed. There’s not much that’s better than that!
If you are feeling anxious or paranoid in the water, watch this helpful video:
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