• Health & Fitness

5 ways open-water swimming boosts your brain health

The physical and mental health benefits of open-water swimming are commonly talked about but did you know it also boosts your brain health? Here are 5 ways swimming boosts your brain heath.

For a while now, people have talked about both the physical and mental health benefits of open-water swimming. We have even written articles about it – Health benefits of ocean swimming and how ocean swimming benefits your mental health

And for many swimmers, swimming is a way to escape the chaos of the world and the racing thoughts in their minds. However, recent studies have found that open-water swimming can actually boost your brain health.

Here are five ways open-water swimming boosts your brain health.

1. Improves Memory

Early research shows that swimming in general helps to boost memory in swimmers of all ages.

Studies have shown that swimming helps the brain retain memories and increase long-term memory as the brain ages. It was also found that kids aged between six to twelve years old remembered more vocabulary words after just three minutes of swimming.

You might ask how does swimming do this? Well, swimming helps to grow the hippocampus through hippocampal neurogenesis which is responsible for the brain’s memory and learning.

Swimming also helps support the creation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a compound that repairs and supports the growth of new brain cells. This in turn helps to grow the hippocampus, which is responsible for the brain’s memory and learning.

2. Promotes better sleep

The specific exercise of swimming uses muscles around the whole body, meaning it tires out the entire body, which helps to promote a deeper and more restful night’s sleep.

The environment of ocean swimming, including the lower water temperature compared to the air temperature and the flow and movement of the waves, also helps to promote a more restful night’s sleep.

3. Boosts cognitive function

The rhythmic movements and sensory feel of the water in open water swimming help to boost cognitive function within the brain.

The bilateral cross-patterning movement that is freestyle helps the nerve fibres located in the corpus callosum (the part of the brain that allows communication between both sides) to develop further and increase the brain’s cognitive function over time.

A study on older athletes found that those who swam constantly in their older age had better cognitive ability than their non-swimming counterparts.

4. Reduces depression and anxiety

Swimming has long been proven to increase levels of the neurotransmitter – serotonin, while also lowering the levels of cortisol, which when high can trigger a fight or flight response. Both of these things help to improve one’s mood and lower levels of anxiety.

Studies have also found that open-water swimming helps to produce endorphins within the body which acts like a natural pain reliever. These endorphins also give a ‘swimmer’s high’ which makes you feel on top of the world and boosts your overall mood.

5. Increases blood flow

Open-water swimming has been proven to increase blood flow within the brain and increase blood circulation around the body.

A study found that swimmers showed a 14 per cent increase in blood flow within the brain and around the body compared to non-swimmers. This extra blood flow helps to remove waste products from the brain, allowing your brain to be more efficient.

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 10 October 2023
  • (Updated on 6 December 2023)

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