It’s no secret that exercise, both strength and aerobic, can help reduce and even stop the impact of aging on the body and mind. As you are all aware, not all exercise is created equal and each of the disciplines in multisport and triathlon have different impacts and benefits to the body. For instance, we know the health benefits of running and cycling include improving your cardiovascular health, increased strength and flexibility and increased bone density. Any form of exercise also helps with stress relief, improved mood, and a feeling of connection with nature and others you train with. Regular swimming though seems to give you these benefits plus a few more that will have you wanting to get yourself in the pool for reasons than just surviving your next triathlon swim leg.
A recent TED article stated that regular swimming has been proven to improve memory, cognitive function, immune response, and mood. Swimming could also assist in reversing damage from stress and assist in new neural connections occurring within the brain. It’s not yet known exactly how, but scientists are seeing these brain-enhancing benefits from regular swimmers.
Evidence has shown that aerobic exercise can contribute to neurogenesis (let’s call this “making new brain cells”), once thought to be finite, it is proven now that they can in-fact be rebuilt well into adulthood. How this occurs is via a protein that is released in response to exercise called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor”, which allows the brain to change – boosting cognitive function, including learning and memory. Another neurotransmitter that is released during aerobic exercise is serotonin – the feel-good chemical that is known to reduce depression and anxiety and help lift your mood.
What makes swimming the most special sport for this exercise induced benefits to the body? No-one knows for sure just yet – more research is needed to really work out why swimming gives the most health benefits, specifically for your brain.
What we do know about swimming is that it involves all your major muscle groups. Swimming is strenuous, and the heart must work hard to meet the demands of all those muscles’ groups working to propel you through the dense water. I know my heart rate gets very high when I push myself in the water in a set of intervals.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Physiology concluded that swimming tests carried out on a group of >60-year-old subjects found that those exposed to regular swimming and water aerobics had improved mental speed and attention. Their conclusion was including swimming as part of day-to-day activity may help in reducing age related cognitive decline. I think that maybe the over 60 crowd worked this out for themselves when you see the crowded aqua aerobics classes, and in a case, I witness myself an almost 90-year-old that used to share a lane with me and swim a mile 3 times a week at my local Y. He was sharp as a tack and always up for a chat and sharing a joke. I couldn’t believe it when the lifeguards told me his age.
Right now, there is no definitive “dosage” for swimming. It appears from the research done to date that any regular exposure to the water through swimming or aqua activities provides these benefits.
So, when you think you might just skip that swim session – maybe look at your session a bit differently – it’s so much more than swimming a distance or a pace in a race – swimming just might be your best key to the fountain of youth.
TED article link: https://ideas.ted.com/swimming-brain-boost-science/
Research Study link:
Swimming Helps Elderly Population to Improve Mental Speed and Attention: Sakharayapatna Vasegowda. https://www.ijcep.org/index.php/ijcep/article/view/340
Swimming as a Positive Moderator of Cognitive Aging: A cross-sectional study with a multi-task approach: Amira Abou-Dest,1 Cédric T. Albinet,1 Geoffroy Boucard,1 and Michel Audiffren1