Why swimming is so good for taking care of your brain

Swimming is not only a super complete exercise on a physical level: several surveys show that it is ideal for protecting and strengthening the capacities of our brain

Jose A. Morales Garcia

JOSÉ A. MORALES GARCIA Professor and Scientific Researcher in Neuroscience, Complutense University of Madrid

It’s no news that exercise is good for our brains. It respects a basic principle: what is good for our heart is good for our nervous system. But is there one physical activity that has more benefits than another?

There are many reasons to go to the pool, the lake or the sea this summer: to make the heat more bearable, to have a good time, to exercise your muscles, etc. But best of all, swimming is one of the most complete exercises to improve our physical and mental health.

And to convince you to continue reading this article, we are going to reveal a secret. The expression “eternal fountain of youth” could be literal. And the key is in the water.

Here is an overview. Swimming promotes the release of substances in the brain that improve cognition and memory, in part by helping to establish new brain connections. It helps our body fight against oxidative stress and free radicals, reduces stress levels and improves our immune system. Together, it improves mood.

Let’s start swimming.

First of all, the physical benefits of swimming are undeniable. It is a very complete exercise that activates the main muscle groups of the body. In addition to stimulating the cardiovascular system, the work done is much greater than in other activities, thanks to the resistance of the water. Another advantage is that the body, being submerged, receives less physical impact and it is easier to move.

But physical fitness is just as important as mental health.

endorphin rush

As a good aerobic exercise – one that requires the heart and lungs to work to deliver oxygen to the muscles – swimming produces the release of endorphins.

These substances are the natural drug of the brain, since they reduce the perception of pain, give us pleasure and an immense feeling of well-being and happiness. This is why swimming is so addictive, because secreted endorphins bind to opioid receptors in the brain, responsible for functions such as sedation, pain reduction or euphoria.

Let no one be afraid. Endorphins are not at all negative, quite the contrary. Among other things, they have been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. Some studies have even shown them to be much more effective than some antidepressants. In this sense, swimming as a therapy improves the mood and reduces the symptoms of those who suffer from this disorder. This would make it possible to reduce or even eliminate medication in some patients.

Part of the antidepressant effect could be due to the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, something that happens after swimming. The hippocampus is also the area of ​​the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Brain training for all ages

We know that physical activity helps keep our minds sharp as we age, but not just in old age. Some studies have shown that swimming helps develop the infant’s brain. Specifically, a recent study showed that children aged 6 to 12 have a better ability to retain vocabulary after swimming for several minutes. This activity therefore seems to improve memory in people of all ages.

Another of its great virtues is that it stimulates brain functions. This is the result obtained after a study carried out on adult swimmers who, after 20 minutes of swimming, improved said function.

Much of the blame for these benefits lies with BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), a brain growth factor that improves memory and cognition. Because what differentiates swimming from other cardiovascular activities is precisely that it stimulates the release of BDNF.

Relax and disconnect

The reason could be simpler than you think: water. On the one hand, the liquid medium produces relaxation, but, in addition, the rhythmic movement of swimming makes us enter a meditative state. Added to this is the fact that in the water we can disconnect from the sounds that surround us and only hear our breathing.

The benefits don’t stop there. Swimming reduces emotional tension because it lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. It also increases the production of serotonin, one of the happiness hormones that helps us fight anxiety, depression and stress.

Y por si fuera poco, las fibras nerviosas del cuerpo calloso –el cableado cerebral qu’allowe la comunicación entre los dos hemisferios– se déarrollan más en los nadadores gracias a la precision de las brazadas ya la forma en que se utilizan los movimientos bilaterales cruzados para to swim.

And it is that swimming activates both hemispheres, which need a greater amount of oxygen. This increased communication between the two sides of the brain leads to increased cognition and better learning abilities.

But don’t leave…there’s even more!

Stop cognitive deterioration

Recently, a study showed that swimming suppresses cognitive decline in obese mice. The aim of this work was to reproduce in animals what happens in humans when they gain weight following a poor diet. This results in a deterioration of learning and memory abilities, which is closely linked to the inflammation of nerve tissue and the reduction of neurotrophic or growth factors in the brain.

Swimming reverses these abnormal changes. Therefore, it rescues obese mice from impaired learning and memory ability, reducing obesity, reducing hippocampal inflammation and increasing the production of neurotrophic factors such as BDNF.

If you swim regularly, you probably hadn’t thought of all that this activity brings you. So from now on, after the post-swimming high or pool addiction, think about all the things that go on in your brain after swimming.

For non-swimmers, if you need an excuse to jump in the pool this summer, consider this article a sign.

Who knows? Likewise, the secret of eternal youth is found in water.

This article was published in ‘The conversation‘.

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