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Can Swimming Help You Think Better?

Improve Your Brain Power

Article by Angela Schaack

Photography by iStock

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer.  It’s the time of year when the temperatures are starting to rise and the best way to beat the heat is to find the nearest body of water and dive in.

The good news is that swimming seems to offer more than just a way to cool off in the summer.  There's evidence to show that it may actually increase your brain power.

It's not surprising to find that swimming is a great aerobic exercise that improves fitness and strengthens muscles, including the all important heart muscle.  What was unexpected was the discovery that swimming has an extra benefit of increasing brain health to improve cognition, memory, and mood. 

An element that is somewhat unique about swimming is that it uses all the major muscle groups.  This increases blood flow throughout the entire body which helps to build new blood vessels.  Swimming as a regular form of exercise may contribute to increased levels of a protein in your brain called BDNF, which helps to repair cells and stimulate the growth of new cells.  John Ratey, Psychiatrist and co-author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, has described BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for your brain.”

More blood flow also means more endorphins, the hormones that naturally reduce pain and inflammation. We also know it as the "feel good" hormones that promote overall happiness.  To go one step further, aerobic exercise, like swimming, increases serotonin levels which is known to reduce depression, anxiety, and improve overall mood.  To sum it up, swimming is great for the body, mind, and soul.

And, if that’s not enough to convince you to take a dip in the nearest pool, we all know about the importance of sleep for optimal health.  Most forms of exercise can cause you to feel tired, but I think we can all agree that swimming just seems to bring on the desire to take an afternoon nap.  It’s unclear why swimming, more than other forms of exercise, improves sleep quality.  It may have something to do with the full-body workout, or that the water is cooler than your body temperature that makes sleep more inviting. Either way, it’s one more benefit to add to the list of reasons to dive in for a few laps. 

You may be wondering just how much you'll need to swim to reap these benefits.  The question of how much you need to swim is still largely unanswered.  However, an early study on animals reported improved cognitive functioning after just one week of swimming 60 minutes daily.  Another study of young adults found that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity breaststroke improved cognitive function.  

Neuroscientists are making strides, but there is more work to be done to answer all the questions about the benefits of swimming on brain health.  Until research can offer more definitive answers, we can take note of our own results while enjoying the rejuvenating experience of swimming.  For now, the evidence that is available seems to point the way to the water.  Jump in, enjoy, and reap the benefits!

By Angela Schaack, Founder of Way to Wellness, and Triathlete


US Masters Swimming - Five Reasons why Swimming is Great for Brain Health by Elaine K Howley, January 2021: - The fountain of youth hasn’t been found, but swimming may come close. By Seena Mathew PhD, August 11, 2021:

Well + Good: Why a Neurobiologist Suggests Swimming for Brain Health | Well+Good (  

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