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Swimming Stimulates Brain Chemicals & Neurotransmitters

Here in Riverside County, Southern California, we live within an hour's drive from the best beaches in the world. Yet, very few of us make frequent trips to the beach. If you go to any of the nearby beaches this August, chances are you’re getting more out of it than just enjoyment. It has long been thought sea frolicking has many health benefits. Using seawater for medical purposes even has a name: thalassotherapy. Swimming in seawater can in some cases, even cure arthritis.

Ocean water has significantly high amounts of minerals, including sodium, chloride, sulphate, magnesium and calcium. This is why it’s highly useful for skin conditions such as psoriasis. Folks suffering from psoriasis report feeling better after swimming in the ocean, but this may also have to do with sun exposure, which has been found to improve psoriasis symptoms.

The flushing of the nasal cavity with salty solutions is used as a complementary therapy by many people suffering from hay fever (environmental allergies) as well as inflammation and infection of the sinuses. Ocean swimming and exposure to the salt environment are associated with reduced symptoms of hay fever and sinusitis, as well as other respiratory symptoms.

I you can't make it to the beach, you can make saline solution at home with distilled water, iodine-free salt, and baking soda. Follow the instructions here.

Hydrotherapy (water therapy) and swimming have also been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. One study showed the effects comparable to a commonly used anti-depressant drug called paroxetine.

For starters, swimming ...

  • stimulates brain chemicals that foster the growth of nerve cells.

  • affects neurotransmitters such as serotonin that influence mood and produces ANP, a stress-reducing hormone, which helps control the brain’s response to stress and anxiety.

  • zaps a bad mood more efficiently than even running. Swimming in the midst of a depressive cycle, hushes the dead thoughts for up to two hours.

Swimming workouts release endorphins (natural feel-good compounds whose very name derives from “endogenous” and “morphine”). Swimming serves, as well, to sop us excess fight-or-flight stress hormones, converting free-floating angst into muscle relaxation. It can even promote so-called “hippocampal neurogenesis” – the growth of new brain cells in a part of the brain that atrophies under chronic stress. In animal models, exercise has shown itself to be even more potent than drugs like Prozac at spurring such beneficial changes.

Besides biochemical changes in the brain, swimming aids the alternating stretch and relaxation of skeletal muscles while simultaneously deep-breathing in a rhythmic pattern.

So, we say, swim as much as you can, and if possible swim in the ocean...

Happy summer!


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