85% of UK adults are experiencing stress regularly, according to a study by Forth and finally we are realising the effects that this is having on our bodies and mental health. The question is: what can we do about it? And does swimming actually have the power to reduce stress?
Here's the thing: stress is key for survival.
The 'fight or flight' response heightens your senses so you can avoid dangerous situations - such as jumping away from a moving car. It can even help you to concentrate, helping you hit those last minute deadlines in record time.
So, what's the big deal?
As with everything, too much of anything isn't good for your health.
If the 'fight or flight' response keeps firing, day in, day out, this can take a toll on our health.
Ongoing, chronic stress can cause mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety.
What can we do?
Based on the facts, it looks like swimming could make the biggest splash.
It deeply relaxes our body
When we feel stressed, our muscles tense up - this is our body's way of protecting itself against injury and pain. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain and body aches.
In swimming, we stretch and relax our skeletal muscles, which in turn relieves our tense muscles and helps ease the pain of any swollen joints.
When we're stressed, our respiratory muscles tense up, which can leave us short of breath. Swimming forces us to focus on deep breathing and concentrate on our movements.
That's because repetitive movements, hand-in-hand with self-directed thoughts, are familiar in practises like meditation and yoga.
It can generate new brain cells
But that's not all. Amazingly, the brain damage caused by stress can be reversed.
So-called "hippocampal neurogenesis" - the growth of new brain cells - has been proven in animal models.
From this research, the study found that swimming promoted the growth of new brain cells that break down during long-term stress.
It releases mood-boosting endorphins
In stressful situations, the stress hormones - adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol - cause your heart to pump faster.
This is called the 'fight or flight' response, which involves a huge spike in blood pressure.
Good news though: swimming serves us well to help get rid of these excess 'fight or flight' stress hormones.
A hard workout releases endorphins, the natural feel-good hormones that increase positivity and bring about a sense of wellbeing and happiness.
It also releases serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer, and ANP, a stress-reducing hormone.
It helps you sleep better
One of the most common causes of stress is failing to get enough sleep. With ever-more stressful work environments, 39% of UK adults admit they feel too stressed in their day to day lives.
After a tough swim, you'll notice that not only do you feel better during the day, you'll also sleep better at night too. There's more: it boosts the time spent in 'deep sleep' as well as the length of time you're getting shut-eye.
I can't emphasize this enough:
Swimming blows all other sports out of the water when it comes to keeping your stress levels in check. In the pool, all your focus is on your breathing and the stroke.
So next time, you're struggling to keep afloat of your work, you know what to do.
What's more, you can earn a free swim when you download a free pass. Ker-ching!
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