Swim Your Way to Health

Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi Channel 4 TV Doctor (Steph's Packed Lunch) and Swim England clinical advisor lists some of the various health benefits of swimming, and the science behind it.
Boost your endocannabinoids: Activities like open water swimming activate our brain reward system, resulting in spikes in dopamine and serotonin which help counteract symptoms like low mood and anxiety. 
Connecting with nature: Being around natural landscapes has been found to improve anxiety and depressive symptoms. Research has shown that when this is combined with physical activity and social contact the effects are even stronger.
Being in the moment: Mindfulness is the state of being focused on the present. It can be a hard skill to learn but when achieved, can help declutter your mind. Focusing on the water, stroke and breathing can help get you into a mindful state.
Community: Humans are tribal animals. We are designed to seek out a support network. Loneliness has been shown to have significant health implications. According to the National Institute on Aging the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social isolation and loneliness have even been estimated to shorten a person's life span by as many as 15 years. There are open water swim groups across the country who host mental health swims. So go find your tribe!
Physical activity: Movement has a prefound positive impact on both our physical and mental health. If it was a drug, it would be the most effective in existence. Studies have shown that it lowers the risk of depression by 20-30%. A similar reduction in risk has also been shown in dementia for adults participating in daily activity.
Improves sleep: Activities like open water swimming when done regularly can help improve the quality of your sleep by increasing the release of the hormone prolactin.
Activating your stress response: We all know that open water swimming can mean we are getting into colder water! When done safely this can be incredible for your health. Getting into cold water activates your stress response. Your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate all goes up. It is this same response we feel when we are anxious, stressed or under attack. However, if we continue to expose ourselves to this stress response in a safe way like open water cold exposure, our body adapts to reduce this response. This adaptation can help us manage other stresses going forward.  
Live longer better (Longevity): Research out of the University of Birmingham and King’s College London explored the impact physical activity has on our health span (the time we live with a good quality of life). They studied 125 fit active adults aged 55-79. They were compared to 2 groups of older and younger participants who were not regularly active. It found:
1. Age related muscle loss did not occur in those who exercised regularly
2. Age related body fat and cholesterol increases did not occur
3. Male testosterone levels were higher in the exercise group
This debunks the assumption that ageing automatically makes us frailer. We don't stop moving because we get old. We get old because we stop moving. 
Written by Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi
Follow Dr Hussain on social media here:
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