I received the wonderful note below from Jeanne Waful on Day #50 of 100 Days of Blue, the Blue Mind Book Tour and thought I'd share it.
Is synchronized swimming the ultimate Blue MInded sport? Some say YES!
And it's not just for pros and olympians (check out Fluid Movement in Baltimore!)
Note: Dear Dr. Nichols,
I was happy to learn about you, your work and your book Blue Mind a couple of weeks ago while watching CBS This Morning.
I am thoroughly enjoying reading it!
I was wondering how much you know about synchronized swimming. Do you know how good it is for the body and the mind? Synchro is oftentimes dismissed (no thanks to comedians goofing on it). It has grown into much more than the water ballet that Esther Williams and her co-swimmers performed in the movies. Though still a combination of swimming, gymnastics and dance, it is much more complex and demanding and keeps getting more difficult as the athletes get better.
The governing body, United States Synchronized Swimming, constantly adds more complex movements as the sport grows.
I started doing synchro seven years ago and am madly in love with it. The benefits are numerous. Like most synchronized swimmers, I am a strong swimmer and reap the benefits you mention in pages 108 to 111 of your book. The head-to-toe workout provides me with aerobic conditioning, strengthening, stretching, and balance--the elements recommended for healthy aging by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control.
I work on body alignment (posture), core strength, muscle extension, flexibility, and proprioception, while maintaining fast-twitch muscle fibers, improving my breathing technique, and weight lifting as I lift my limbs out of the water all the while having fun. (Did I say work?)
Rotational movements that can only be done in the water (not even a trapeze would give me that freedom of movement) challenge the brain as well as the body. I increase my lung capacity and my VO2 max (the body's capacity to transport and utilize oxygen).
As for the brain, the benefits are also numerous. Aerobics is combined with skill development and learning which stimulates the hippocampus to grow. The skills are much more complex than with swimming, at least for me they are and I am constantly honing my swimming skills. Memory is improved not only by memorizing routines but when instructed, the swimmer has to take those instructions and remember them when under water as there is no more vocal contact with the coach. Also, there is the added challenge because clockwise and counter-clockwise switch when one inverts oneself. One\'s eyes are put to the test, too, to help with balance.
Other things that I have read that enhance brain function while being physically active are:
combining movements with music,
reacting to music,
working with rhythm,
doing so with emotional expression,
reacting to and synchronizing with others, and
And synchro includes all of the above. (The teamwork of a group lift where swimmers are lifting other swimmers who are lifting other swimmers out of the water is a joy to be involved in.)
Edward Hallowell\'s book Crazy Busy explains how doing exercises where all four limbs are doing different things stimulates the cerebellum through an indirect route that make it especially beneficial. Some movements in synchro require the four limbs to do different things and are quite difficult to learn.
I recently read that cursive handwriting is good for the brain in regards to functional specialization because it combines sensation, movement control and thinking. Well, synchro does that, too!
And it\'s all in the wonderful world of water...not necessarily in natural settings...but the water is blue!
I would love to know if any neurologists have studied the brains of synchronized swimmers. If not, I would like to share this information with them. I was wondering if you might know of any research or be able to help me contact a researcher who might be interested. Do feel free to share this note with interested parties.
Well, I'm going to finish reading your book. It's been a pleasure.
It really isn't the same without water (or talent) as you can see below!
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