As a competitive swimmer during my youth and college, I never truly appreciated that benefits that came with swimming.
Sure, there were the obvious benefits: being able to eat bottomless bowls of pasta and not gain a pound, the trademark V-shaped back, and the weekend travel.
But it wasn’t until much later, when I took up lap swimming without the competition that I began to take a different appreciation of how beneficial getting into the water was for me physically, but just as critically, mentally.
Swimming as an activity and a sport presents a long laundry list of health benefits to swimming laps. It’s a full-body, low-impact exercise that builds muscle, is easy on the joints, and leads the pack when it comes to burning calories.
But in today’s stressful and uncertain times, it’s the mental health benefits that are perhaps more important than ever.
Here are a few of the mental benefits of spending time in the lap pool.
Swimming is mentally refreshing.
Maybe it’s the nature of being in the water, where gravity unshackles its grip from us and we are fully immersed in water. Or maybe it is the satisfaction of a solid aerobic exercise. Whatever the case, when you get out of the water, there is an unmistakable sense of feeling mentally refreshed.
A survey done by Speedo, a leading manufacturer of swimwear, found that 70% of swimmers felt mentally fresh after a swim practice, and that 74% of swimmers felt remarkably less stressed out when they got out of the pool.
Exercise in general is a fantastic way to combat stress, and swimming combines an exceptional caloric burn rate (according to the Harvard Health Letter, you can expect to burn 488 calories swimming front crawl for 30 minutes) and a way to hit refresh on the stressors in your life.
Swimming decreases depression.
Exercise, and swimming laps absolutely counts, is also a proven way to decrease symptoms of depression and boost mood.
A study performed with collegiate men and women found that doing just thirty minutes of lap swimming, 2-3 times per week, significantly increased mood, decreased tension, and reduced
Although getting yourself to the pool and getting in and swimming a bunch of laps is met with the typical resistance that comes with pushing yourself physically, the depression-fighting benefits are more than worth it.
Water immersion is good for brain health
If you aren’t up to swimming laps, and are looking for the stress-relieving aspects of swimming without the whole swimming laps part, there’s good news.
A study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that water immersion—putting our body into water that reached to the level of our sternum—was enough to significantly increase blood flow to the brain in young healthy males.
Whether you are jumping into the water and swimming laps, or simply floating around in the shallow end while riding a pool noodle, the very act of being in the water promotes increased blood flow to the brain.
A moment of deep focus .
Our daily life is filled with distractions, each one of them tugging and yanking at our attention. This relentless bombardment is exhausting.
In the water, that work email can’t reach you. Targeted ads can’t tug at your attention. News articles aren’t trying to scare the hell out of you. Social media feeds aren’t pulling your psychological levers to keep you scrolling.
When it is just you and the black line, there are no notifications, no blaring headlines, no fires to put out via email. Just you and some mental calm.
In a world that is growing ever more connected, having some time to yourself where you can be alone with your thoughts and attention is becoming more and more prized.
About the Creator
Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer and author of "Conquer the Pool," a mental training workbook for competitive swimmers. He writes about leadership and high-performance mindsets.