Events around the world, centered on taking cold dips in swimming pools or any water body, for that matter, have sparked interest and research into the benefits of water on health. Whether it’s in a fibreglass pool or the Atlantic Ocean, the advantages of swimming on overall health have been proven. It’s a known fact that members of the “Polar Bear Club” take dips in the cool waters of the Atlantic. These New Yorkers think nothing of the icy sensations they feel but revel in it. Similarly, all around the globe, from Vancouver to Vilnius, people love water and water-based activities. Some robust souls tout the advantages of chilled water, while some are content with swimming in heated pools.
Cold Water Waders
The “niche” activity of swimming in cold water is catching up with many folks who cannot stop talking about the feeling of euphoria that they feel later. They credit swimming in freezing water with the cure for many psychological issues like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. General stress from daily living is also busted with such activity as is physical pain from cancer and all manner of chronic ailments. More and more people are installing a fibreglass pool in their backyards, just so they can look forward to a cool swim in the summer, especially after work.
Coping with Stress
While swimming, psychological benefits abound. As therapists will often tell you, sound mental health is built on an individual’s ability to cope with the stress that occurs in life. Throughout history, humans have evolved a variety of automatic physiological reactions to what they perceive as a threat. These have prepared us for action in any potential stressful circumstance or context. In psychology, this response that is triggered by fear or stress is called “fight or flight”. Immersion in water, warm or cold, especially cold, produces this. The minute you dip into icy cold water, the hypothalamus in your brain fires a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system by a burst of adrenaline. Adrenaline is released from your adrenal glands.
The Biology of Happiness
When the hypothalamus releases adrenaline (epinephrine), your heart rate goes up, and blood is pushed into your muscles. Your body’s airwaves become broad, letting more oxygen into your brain. Blood sugar is actively mobilized as a supply of energy. All this happens while you are actively swimming, as it does with any exercise you undertake. Your system is revved up, but since swimming is undertaken in water, you feel a sense of lightness, as the water supports you. When you stop swimming, your body comes back to a calm state, and you feel relaxed, as your parasympathetic system takes over. By the time you have spent all that energy in your fibreglass pool, your stress is forgotten and your calm state makes you feel it was never there. At least it appears to be less significant than it was perceived to be before your swim.
Research has provided enough evidence to make you believe that swimming not only promotes great mental health but also physically keeps you fit. Ask anyone who’s been swimming in a fibreglass pool in their backyard. The very activity that it triggers in the body is enough to offer a “high”. Swimming, if undertaken as a sport, teaches discipline, teamwork will power, and all-around dedication. Often, you find that you make more friends in a public swimming pool than you do in other places. It’s a great place to socialize, forge relationships and friendships that can last a lifetime.
Breathing through Swimming
When you make swimming a habitual daily activity, or at least a disciplined activity a few times a week, you’ll discover that it takes your mind off worries. It keeps them off as well. While you swim, you have to think of other things like your pattern of breathing, the number of laps you’ve taken, and if you’re in a public pool, you need to avoid collision! Keeping track of these aspects of your swim tends to take your mind off other things. When you have an inviting fibreglass pool to look forward to in your backyard, at the end of the day, the thought itself can drive worry away.
Regulating your breathing pattern is a vital part of swimming activity. If you are stressed or facing panic, your tendency to take rapid and shallow breaths increases. You may hyperventilate and this may lead to a full-blown panic attack. The breathing that swimming entails is regularized so that your body is compelled to evenly inhale and exhale. This aids in lowering blood pressure, getting rid of bodily toxins, as well as relaxing your mental state.
Boosting Blood Flow
A study by Carter et. al (PubMed.gov, 2014) evidenced that just by immersing yourself in water, you can increase the flow of blood to your brain. What this does is improves mood, concentration and memory. The process improves cognitive functioning in an overall way so you are more alert and focused to do tasks. While you are swimming, psychological effects are ongoing and positive. In more relevant implications for the advantages of swimming, studies have proven that swimming can improve brain function by stimulating the production of new neurons in the brain.
In the hippocampus, that area of the brain that is relevant in memory, regulation of emotion, and learning, exercises in water in animals have shown the stimulation of neural creation. Scientists and researchers suggest that this may be true in humans too. This implies that the hippocampus has the ability to grow with exercise.
A term that is related to the peace and calm that water exudes, is called “Blue Mind” and the explanation behind this is called “Blue Mind Science”. As humans, this theory stipulates, that we are naturally drawn to the color blue. Since water bodies, like your fibreglass pool, are blue, you are prone to feelings of peace and calm the moment you view such a space. Remember that water makes up 75 percent of the Earth and 70% of the human body too. The theory postulates that the body’s natural response to water is a positive one. Nonetheless, the effects of swimming, or just lazing around in a pool, are ones that create a sense of quiet and much-needed calm to lift spirits.