For most of us Masters swimmers who train with other people, there’s a social piece of the puzzle, too. Connecting with others, particularly when you’re engaged in a physical activity together, has been shown to boost brain health and mood and is increasingly being recommended as a way to combat dementia. Socializing while depressed can be challenging, as a major symptom of depression is isolation, or removing oneself from social settings. But taking some of the thought out of socializing by simply turning up to an organized workout could make connecting with others and finding like-minded friends to support us through the dark times easier for many people dealing with depression.
Taken all together, there’s a growing body of evidence that any form of exercise helps ease depression. But swimming may yet have one more ace up its sleeve as the superior depression-beating option—the water itself. Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, made waves in the field of psychology with the release of his bestselling 2001 book “Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do,” which detailed the psychological effect being in or near water can have. In short, he wrote that water calms and soothes the human psyche, providing cognitive and emotional benefits that may be challenging to exactly quantify but that are very real all the same. Researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom have picked up this thread and are studying how something as simple as watching a video of the ocean while exercising on a stationary bicycle might elevate mood.
How about cutting out the middleman and getting your exercise in the sea instead?
At its core, exercise is good for the body. And what’s good for the body is good for the brain, too. Because depression and anxiety are disruptions to normal brain activity, it makes sense that something like exercise—that has demonstrated benefits for the body—would support the brain, too. While science tinkers with the exact dosages that help individuals with different types and severity levels of depression and works out the specific mechanisms of how it all works, I’ll keep putting one arm in front of the other, knowing that my own body of evidence says swimming is a major help for keeping my mental health above water.
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