The Joy of Swimming: How Being in the Water Can Improve Physical and Mental Health

Even leisurely swimming can burn up to 400 calories per hour, twice as much as walking.

The relatively low impact of water activities compared to running makes them ideal for those treating minor injuries as well as the elderly.

And this is not only a short-term benefit, swimming also brings long-term benefits.

According to the study, regular swimmers have a 28% lower risk of early death, and a 41% lower risk of dying from heart disease and stroke. report in the Swim England Commission on Swimming and Health in 2017.

calm waters

While the physical improvement of swimming is widely documented, the mental health benefits of swimming are less well known, but no less effective.

In 2019, almost half a million Britons living with mental health diagnoses said that swimming had reduced visits to healthcare professionals. Swim England.

In particular, swimming in open water – with its naturally cooler temperatures – is increasingly understood as being good for mental health.

A woman swims to cool off in Lake Kshemas, a small natural lake located in the Valbona National Park near Dragobi, August 4, 2021.

For those who aren’t afraid of the cold, exposure to cold water releases the feel-good hormone dopamine, providing an endorphin rush that can last for hours after being dry.

Research into the anti-inflammatory properties of cold water at the University of Portsmouth in the UK has come to fruition. a growing body of anecdotal evidence that it can attenuate the inflammatory responses that cause anxiety and depression.

It is known that being in the so-called “blue environment” next to the ocean or body of water is known to reduce the response to stress.

Letter to CNN last summer, front-line soldier Dr. Mark Lieber reflected on the transformative impact of even short pool dips in helping to lighten the weight of the previous year, literally and figuratively.

“My first thought when I dived underwater was that I felt a little more buoyant than usual, probably due to the extra pounds caused by the quarantine,” Lieber said.

“But as I continued to slide on the water, my initial anxiety about gaining weight gave way to a sense of catharsis, as if the water was clearing me of the stress that had built up during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Stroke after stroke, I felt my spirits lift, my mind clear and my body relax.”


Rachel Ash, Founder mental healthis a living testament to the mental benefits of open water swimming.

Based in the UK, Mental Health Swims is a volunteer-led peer support community that organizes open water meetups across the UK.

After receiving a mental health diagnosis in 2018, Ash first took up running but lost confidence after several frightening misses on the ice during the winter.

At the end of the year, she felt “really bad” and “things were complicated”, but on New Year’s Day, Ash literally dived into a new future.

After venturing into the “Loony Dook” – an annual event that sees intrepid participants take to the icy waters near Edinburgh, Scotland – Ash returned to the beach shivering but changed.

“It was very painful and I didn’t like it,” Ash said. CNN Sports“but a very alien feeling of connection with my body after so long an unhappy existence in my poor mind was for me a real moment of epiphany.”
New Year's Day swim meet with Mental Health Swims at Caswell Bay in Swansea, Wales.

Six months later, 30 people joined Ash for competitive swimming, and since then, the group’s growth has been exponential, even during the pandemic.

From Cornwall in the southwest of England to Loch Lomond in Scotland, Mental Health Swims will host over 80 swimming events this year, led by trained volunteers with a focus on inclusion and peer support.

The reasons for joining may vary. For some, it’s a sense of community, while others are looking for mindfulness and the release of endorphins after swimming.

Ash loves the water as an alternative safe space from the more intimidating gym environment, a passion that has breathed new life into her mental health.

“I realized that my differences are a strength, and not something to be ashamed of,” Ash said. “I never thought I could do what I do today.

“I will always have a mental illness, but I take much better care of myself these days. I still have great feelings, but with medication, therapy, outdoor swimming and healthy, happy relationships, I’m doing well.”

Mental Health Swims has been on the rise since its inception in 2019.


Few speak better about the physical and mental health benefits of swimming than Sarah Waters, who lives in coastal Cornwall.

While at university, Waters was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and lived with symptoms of a chronic inflammatory disease for more than a decade.

Aggressive treatment and medications were debilitating her, and after returning from traveling and working in Australia, the swelling on her neck turned out to be skin cancer.

The physical and emotional toll from cancer surgeries and treatment changes was exacerbated by the need for protection during the pandemic, but Waters’ fortunes took a turn for the worse when – after a little prodding from her mother – she took up seafaring.

Waters took up swimming during the pandemic.

“She started walking and kept saying, ‘You should come, it’s really helping your mental health,'” Waters told CNN.

“When you go out, you feel a bit of a rush, like you’ve been woken up in some way. I know it sounds very strange, but it definitely gives you a tingle that you have achieved something that you have never done before. thought you could do it sooner.”

Thus began a stubborn commitment, even in winter, to swimming two or three times a week—sometimes it was Waters’ only way out of the house due to protection demands.

Since her first trip to the sea with her mother, Waters has never looked back.
From easing muscle stiffness and increasing joint flexibility, swimming provides a number of physical benefits for people with arthritis, according to the charity. Compared to arthritisfor which Waters wrote.

For Waters, these physical improvements are consistent with mental health benefits.

“You always get that feeling of fear right before you ask, ‘Can you do this?'” Waters said.

Meet the black women who advocate for equality in swimming

“But I do it, and then that feeling of accomplishment in some way, for your physical and mental wellbeing, it definitely does something.

“With all the medications, you can feel very tired most of the time – when you have a day off, you are just so tired that you don’t feel like you have the strength to do it – but once you do, it will revive you.

“Once you start to improve your symptoms of anxiety or depression, you can benefit physically as well.”

After finishing his first swim in over a year, Dr. Lieber was looking forward to starting his four-day work in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

“I usually dread the first of these night shifts,” he said. “But somehow the task seemed more feasible than usual.

“Whatever happens tonight will happen. No matter what happens, there will always be tomorrow.”