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The science of swimming

By Steve McCann

If you’ve been watching Penny Oleksiak tearing it up in Tokyo, you may be inspired to hit the pool and swim a few laps. We all know swimming is great for our physical health. It’s the ultimate cardio and aerobic exercise. Now researchers are learning swimming is also great for our brain.

Scientists have long-known swimming improves memory, cognitive function, immune response, and mood. Now, researchers are finding out swimming regenerates neurons and synaptic connections in our brain – once believed to be finite. That explains why even a short time in the pool improves cognitive function like learning and memory. Swimming also releases a hearty dose of serotonin, reducing depression, anxiety, and improving mood.

Take lab rats, for example. Researchers put them in aquatic mazes for an hour each day. The rats would swim around, eventually finding a hidden platform. After about a week, the rats would have the maze memorized, reaching the platform quicker, cutting down their hour-long swim to just a few minutes. Long and short-term memory improved. The same goes for humans!

Bun don’t think swimming is just beneficial to older adults looking to stave off the effects of aging. Studies show swimming is great for kids, too. Don’t worry, the scientists didn’t put the children in an aquatic maze like the rats.

Young children were given new vocabulary words to learn and were tested after performing three different tasks: colouring, swimming, and Cross-Fit. Guess which activity has the best results? You got it – swimming. Even adult swimmers reported better cognitive abilities than other people in the same age group who prefer to stick to the gym.

The big question is why swimming produces better results than land-based exercises? Researchers aren’t quite sure, but they’re hard at work trying to find out.

Leave the complicated neurobiology and lab tests up to the experts. In the meantime, get the family together and hit the pool or beach and get in the water. You don’t need to be breaking any Olympic records like Ms. Oleksiak to see these results. Even a short time in the water can produce these stellar results. What are you waiting for? Your body and brain will thank you for it!


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