Research has shown that exercising in the water can reduce stress on our joints. But water can also relieve stress from another very important part of us – our minds.
Do you have fond memories of being around water? Think back to the beaches you went to as a child, the seas you snorkeled in on your honeymoon, the lake you vacationed in early fall, the river or streams you fished with family, or the neighborhood community pool you swam at with your childhood friends.
Most of us find water, in all its forms, to be quite therapeutic, and there’s a reason these memories of water make you feel calm. Research shows that aquatic scenes can help you lower stress levels and find joy.1 In fact, people who live along coastlines tend to be happier and healthier than people who don’t, according to the European Centre for Environment & Human Health. “Water makes you happier, healthier, more connected to other people, and better at what you do,” says Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., author of Blue Mind.
We all know the benefits of being in and around water; however, you most likely “come to the gym to exercise”. Well, how about getting your exercise in at the same time you relieve stress? Lap swimming and Water Fitness classes can provide mental health benefits while keeping you physically fit. Though the water provides resistance and offers cardiovascular and strength training benefits, swimming and Water Fitness classes are both very refreshing activities. Both relax your brain and boost your mental health, and Water Fitness classes, in particular, are a great social activity. It’s important to note that your social life can affect your physical health. People are social beings, and we tend to live healthier lives when we socialize healthily. Water Fitness classes provide this valuable social connection and can help maintain positive mental and physical health for longer.
Another benefit of water fitness is gaining overall flexibility and mobility. How does this happen? Water adds resistance to the movements you make. Your joints and body parts are pulled and pushed in directions they aren’t used to. Over time, your body becomes accustomed to these movements, thus increasing your flexibility and mobility both on dry land and in water. When we can move better, we FEEL better and feeling better increases your positive attitude towards performing everyday normal activities that you may not particularly enjoy, like taking the trash out or cleaning your bathtub.
If you’re past the age of fifty like myself, your injuries may take longer to heal compared to a young person. This is because your muscle tissues are worn (which happens with time) and may take longer to regenerate. The good news, though – water fitness may help you recover more quickly from your injuries! For instance, if you have recently undergone some type of major surgery, water fitness can help you build your muscle strength, which aids in quicker recovery. It can be pretty depressing to sit around after surgery not being able to do anything. Believe me, I thought I was going to lose my mind after my last surgery! I felt so great being able to get back in the water for both my body AND my mind.
Also, being in that stage of life (a woman past the age of 50), dealing with hot summer days, or any day really, can be unbearable. Water fitness is an excellent way to combat the heat of the summer and the flashes of heat from this life stage by cooling your body temperature, which will also enhance your “feel good” mood.
Water fitness is a unique way of building your physical endurance, and increased physical endurance and capabilities can provide a positive impact on self-esteem and mental health. Have you had to hand someone else the jar of pickles to open lately? How does that make you feel? Water fitness is muscle resistance training, and as you continue to challenge your muscles, over time they become stronger. As you build your physical endurance, your heart, your lungs, and other muscles become stronger, causing you to feel better about yourself – and opening that jar of pickles.
Studies suggest that simply being around water can increase levels of “feel-good” brain chemicals like dopamine and sink levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says Nichols. Even though sitting by the pool at the gym just isn’t the same as sitting on the sand at the beach, you can still feel a calming effect just by being near water.
Do you notice that sometimes just being in the presence of water can make your mind wander? You start to unwind or possibly think through tough situations in different ways. Maybe even have that “AHA!” moment or innovative thought that you need, which doesn’t always come easy when you’re stressed. Maybe water fitness just isn’t your cup of tea, and that’s O.K. – simply walking or just moving throughout the water can soothe those muscles and let your mind unwind. Whether you swim, enjoy a Water Fitness class, or walk in the water, you’ll be glad you took a dip.
1Environment and Behavior 2016, Vol. 48(10) 1242–1269 © 2015 SAGE Publications