Recently, I went swimming for the first time for over a year. As I stood in front of my local gym’s sparkling blue pool, I tried to recall all the stressful events of the past 16 months. These included moving to Baltimore during a pandemic and starting an internal medicine residency program. Also, taking care of both Covid- and non-Covid patients at the hospital.
As I swam under the water’s surface, my first thought was that I felt buoyant. This could have been due to the extra pounds I gained from quarantine. As I glided through the water, I felt a sense of catharsis as the water cleansed me of all the stress from the coronavirus pandemic. After each stroke, I felt my mood lift, my mind clear, and my body relax.
Thirty minutes later I was ready to start the first of four-night shifts at the intensive care unit. Although I normally dread these first night shifts, the task seemed easier than usual. I encouraged myself by telling myself, “Whatever happens tonight happens.” “No matter what happens, there will always exist tomorrow.”
I can see that my improved mood was due to my recent swim in the pool. Swimming, like all forms of exercise, can improve your mood by stimulating the production of opioids — natural opioids that are produced in the brain.
The benefits of a swim are more than a temporary lift in spirits.
Experts say mental health should be a priority as we all come out of isolation.
“Americans have experienced unprecedented hardship over the past months. But if we focus daily on caring for ourselves and supporting those we love, we will be able to successfully mitigate the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” stated Dr. Jerome Adams, former US Surgeon General, in a news release.
He said, “Even though this is a difficult period in our nation’s history,” he continued.
According to , the prevalence of depression in the United States has increased by more than threefold since the spread of Covid-19 according to a study published in JAMA. According to a separate study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, certain high-risk groups such as health care workers and people under 30 were more likely to develop anxiety or depression from the pandemic.
Regular exercise, including running, yoga, weight training, and even tai-chi, remains one of our most powerful tools to improve our moods and mental health. A meta-analysis from 2016 that combined data of 23 random controlled trials found that exercise was comparable in effectiveness to antidepressants as well as psychotherapy for the treatment and prevention of depression.
Although exercise is a part of the reason, there are also structural changes that occur in the brain due to exercise, especially in a primitive structure called the Hippocampus. The hippocampus, along with the amygdala brain structure, is involved in memory formation as well as the regulation of emotions.
Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise such as running or swimming, can reduce inflammation and promote nerve growth in the hippocampus. This has positive effects on mood and memory. However, the opposite is true. “> Atrophy (or shrinkage) of the hippocampus has been associated with the development of mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder.
Subscribe to CNN’s Fitness, But Better Newsletter:Get back into the groove.To ease into a healthy lifestyle, sign up for our newsletter series. Experts will support you
The Covid pandemic has not only affected our mental health but also our bodies. According to another study, the average American gained 7 pounds during the pandemic.
In an email, Daniel Lieberman stated that the long-term effects of COVID are concerning. He is a professor at Harvard University’s department of human evolutionary biology. Lieberman is also the author of Exercised. Why Something We Never Evolved To Do Is Healthy & Rewarding.
Lieberman said that although it is not clear if these extra pounds are due to diet, exercise, or stress, well-documented declines in physical activity may be one reason.
Swimming, like all aerobic exercises, is a great way of strengthening muscles and burning fat. Swimming has an additional advantage: Human swimmers use seven times the energy required to cover a distance than runners.
Lieberman explains that this is because swimming skills were not an evolutionary trait. Human swimmers who can swim at speeds up to 4.5 miles an hour are the fastest — this is the speed at which most people transition from a fast run to a walk.
This aspect of swimming can be frustrating for beginners, but it is not a problem if you are trying to lose weight.
Lieberman said, “You only have to see a seal or beaver swimming to realize that even the best swimmers are not adapted to swim well compared to other mammals.” This inefficiency makes swimming an effective exercise to burn calories.
Swimming is a very beneficial exercise. Swimming horizontally allows for more blood to flow from the veins to the heart.
Swimming has many other cardiac benefits. Swimming has a slower maximum heart rate than running. This increases the time the heart can relax and fill up with blood. According to a study published in 2013 in the International Journal of Cardiology, swimming increases the heart’s stroke volume, or the amount of blood being pumped during each beat.
Swimming is different than other forms of aerobic exercise, as it uses controlled breathing. This can result in an increase in total lungs capacity and better lung function over time.
READ ALSO:Intel is reportedly in talks to buy the $30 billion foundry company AMD spun off a decade ago
Lieberman says that even if you don’t have access to large bodies of water or a pool, it doesn’t matter if you feel like you can’t swim very long. Even if you have difficulty exercising, even a small amount of exercise can provide enormous benefits to your physical and mental health. Lieberman stated that you don’t need to swim the English Channel or run a marathon. You don’t have to be a fan of the exercise. Find a way to make it fun. Most people will find that exercising with friends is more enjoyable than working out alone. Exercise with friends can help you find the motivation