The holiday season is supposed to be the season of joy, filled with cheerful songs and bright decorations. But stress levels tend to skyrocket this time of year, especially among those already dealing with mental health issues. Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress levels, especially if that physical activity is something as strenuous as swimming.
Mental Health Benefits of Swimming
To understand the mental health benefits of physical exercise, you have to look at how endorphins affect the brain. Recent research, though, points toward a neuromodulator called norepinephrine, which is thought to be key in reducing stress through exercise.
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The stress relief properties of norepinephrine actually involve boosting the way your body's various organs communicate with each other. So a strenuous, full-body aerobic form of exercise like swimming will give you a burst of stress reduction in a short timeframe.
Consider also: De-Stress Your Holidays
Physical Health Benefits of Swimming
Swimmers get more than improved mental well-being from their aerobic exercise. According to the CDC, swimming can stave off physical illness and help improve overall health for those with diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. But most importantly, you're getting these benefits in the water, so you don't have to deal with jarring impacts to your joints like you get with other forms of intense aerobic exercise.
Physical exercise has also been connected to reduced blood pressure. Since stress increases blood pressure, the counteractive effect can help. At the very least, you'll feel better about your physical health, which will help take some of the pressure off.
Typical Holiday Stressors
Before you start searching for ways to reduce holiday stress, it's important to understand what causes the stress. It starts with all that shopping you have to do, coupled with getting your holiday decorations in place and attending holiday parties throughout December.
If you already suffer with chronic stress, the holiday season simply adds to that. Your daily obligations plus the holiday festivities can be a bit too much.
Consider also: Your FitBit Might Mess with Your Mental Health
Finding a Pool
As you're looking at all the ways swimming can help combat holiday stress, you might be thinking something pretty obvious: December isn't exactly swimming season. If you're lucky enough to have a pool in your backyard, that's great, as long as you live in a place with a warm climate.
There are also plenty of options for indoor swimming in the winter months, although some might cost you money. The cheapest option might be a local civic center or aquatics facility open to the public. If not, YMCAs often have indoor pools, or you could check into local fitness centers that might have one.
How to Swim for Stress
Since you're likely limited on time, you might want to maximize your time in the water. If you don't know how to swim, this could be a great time to sign up for swimming lessons. There are multiple types of swimming strokes, and learning them will help you swim laps to get peak benefits quickly.
Another option is to sign up for a water aerobics class. These often happen early in the morning and can help you build muscle and increase flexibility. The biggest bonus is that you get similar benefits as you'd get in a land-based aerobics class without impact to your joints.
Swimming offers plenty of benefits, including helping you stay fit. But it can also help you work off some of your stress and enjoy the mental health benefits that come from exercise. As always, discuss any new exercise program with your physician and cease activity immediately if you suffer unusual discomfort.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Maintaining Mental Health During the Holidays (and a Pandemic)
- American Psychological Association: Working Out Boosts Brain Health
- CDC: Healthy Swimming
- Mayo Clinic: Exercise: A Drug-free Approach To Lowering High Blood Pressure
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Stress Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease