Category: Adults

Written by Seena Mathew, Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

It’s no secret that aerobic exercise can help stave off some of the ravages of aging. But a growing body of research suggests that swimming might provide a unique boost to brain health.

Regular swimming has been shown to improve memory, cognitive function, immune response and mood. Swimming may also help repair damage from stress and forge new neural connections in the brain.

But scientists are still trying to unravel how and why swimming, in particular, produces these brain-enhancing effects.

As a neurobiologist trained in brain physiology, a fitness enthusiast and a mom, I spend hours at the local pool during the summer. It’s not unusual to see children gleefully splashing and swimming while their parents sunbathe at a distance – and I’ve been one of those parents observing from the poolside plenty of times. But if more adults recognized the cognitive and mental health benefits of swimming, they might be more inclined to jump in the pool alongside their kids.

New and improved brain cells and connections

Until the 1960s, scientists believed that the number of neurons and synaptic connections in the human brain were finite and that, once damaged, these brain cells could not be replaced. But that idea was debunked as researchers began to see ample evidence for the birth of neurons, or neurogenesis, in adult brains of humans and other animals.

Now, there is clear evidence that aerobic exercise can contribute to neurogenesis and play a key role in helping to reverse or repair damage to neurons and their connections in both mammals and fish.

Research shows that one of the key ways these changes occur in response to exercise is through increased levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. The neural plasticity, or ability of the brain to change, that this protein stimulates has been shown to boost cognitive function, including learning and memory.

Studies in people have found a strong relationship between concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor circulating in the brain and an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for learning and memory. Increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor have also been shown to sharpen cognitive performance and to help reduce anxiety and depression. In contrast, researchers have observed mood disorders in patients with lower concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

Aerobic exercise also promotes the release of specific chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. One of these is serotonin, which – when present at increased levels – is known to reduce depression and anxiety and improve mood.

In studies in fish, scientists have observed changes in genes responsible for increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels as well as enhanced development of the dendritic spines – protrusions on the dendrites, or elongated portions of nerve cells – after eight weeks of exercise compared with controls. This complements studies in mammals where brain-derived neurotrophic factor is known to increase neuronal spine density. These changes have been shown to contribute to improved memory, mood and enhanced cognition in mammals. The greater spine density helps neurons build new connections and send more signals to other nerve cells. With the repetition of signals, connections can become stronger.

But what’s special about swimming?

Researchers don’t yet know what swimming’s secret sauce might be. But they’re getting closer to understanding it.

Swimming has long been recognized for its cardiovascular benefits. Because swimming involves all of the major muscle groups, the heart has to work hard, which increases blood flow throughout the body. This leads to the creation of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. The greater blood flow can also lead to a large release of endorphins – hormones that act as a natural pain reducer throughout the body. This surge brings about the sense of euphoria that often follows exercise.

Most of the research to understand how swimming affects the brain has been done in rats. Rats are a good lab model because of their genetic and anatomic similarity to humans.

In one study in rats, swimming was shown to stimulate brain pathways that suppress inflammation in the hippocampus and inhibit apoptosis, or cell death. The study also showed that swimming can help support neuron survival and reduce the cognitive impacts of aging. Although researchers do not yet have a way to visualize apoptosis and neuronal survival in people, they do observe similar cognitive outcomes.

One of the more enticing questions is how, specifically, swimming enhances short- and long-term memory. To pinpoint how long the beneficial effects may last, researchers trained rats to swim for 60 minutes daily for five days per week. The team then tested the rats’ memory by having them swim through a radial arm water maze containing six arms, including one with a hidden platform.

Rats got six attempts to swim freely and find the hidden platform. After just seven days of swim training, researchers saw improvements in both short- and long-term memories, based on a reduction in the errors rats made each day. The researchers suggested that this boost in cognitive function could provide a basis for using swimming as a way to repair learning and memory damage caused by neuropsychiatric diseases in humans.

Although the leap from studies in rats to humans is substantial, research in people is producing similar results that suggest a clear cognitive benefit from swimming across all ages. For instance, in one study looking at the impact of swimming on mental acuity in the elderly, researchers concluded that swimmers had improved mental speed and attention compared with nonswimmers. However, this study is limited in its research design, since participants were not randomized and thus those who were swimmers prior to the study may have had an unfair edge.

Another study compared cognition between land-based athletes and swimmers in the young adult age range. While water immersion itself did not make a difference, the researchers found that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity breaststroke swimming improved cognitive function in both groups.

Kids get a boost from swimming too

The brain-enhancing benefits from swimming appear to also boost learning in children.

Another research group recently looked at the link between physical activity and how children learn new vocabulary words. Researchers taught children age 6-12 the names of unfamiliar objects. Then they tested their accuracy at recognizing those words after doing three activities: coloring (resting activity), swimming (aerobic activity) and a CrossFit-like exercise (anaerobic activity) for three minutes.

They found that children’s accuracy was much higher for words learned following swimming compared with coloring and CrossFit, which resulted in the same level of recall. This shows a clear cognitive benefit from swimming versus anaerobic exercise, though the study does not compare swimming with other aerobic exercises. These findings imply that swimming for even short periods of time is highly beneficial to young, developing brains.

The details of the time or laps required, the style of swim and what cognitive adaptations and pathways are activated by swimming are still being worked out. But neuroscientists are getting much closer to putting all the clues together.

For centuries, people have been in search of a fountain of youth. Swimming just might be the closest we can get.

Credits – Written by Seena Mathew, Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Published by The Conversation, a world-leading publisher of research-based news and analysis

Originally Published by the Fold, Southern Highlands.
An interview with Aquabliss Centre Manager, Jason Nicholas, who provided some valuable insights about adults learning to swim.

Did you know that 5% of adults in Australia have never learned how to swim? That’s well over a million people, which is quite a big number for a country that is surrounded by water with a lifestyle that tends to centre around the outdoors, don’t you think?

We spoke to Jason Nicholas, Centre Manager at Aquabliss Frensham about the benefits of learning how to swim as an adult and how achievable it is.

“The thing to remember is that it’s quite common. Don’t think you’re the only adult who can’t swim. You’re definitely not alone,” Jason says.

“Swimming is a skill that is relatively easy to learn with the right guidance and support.”
So, if you’ve been thinking about taking the plunge but have been putting it off, here are five reasons why learning to swim as an adult will change your life.

1 // It could save your life (and someone else’s!)

This is a no-brainer, of course. Sadly, the stats on drownings are quite shocking. In 2019, 276 people drowned in Australia and you know what age group was the biggest contributor to that stat? The 45 – 54 age group.

Many adults who can’t swim may not knowingly put themselves in a dangerous situation, but you just never know what can happen. Learning how to swim gives you the added benefit of minimising the risk when you are near or around water – even if you’re not ‘going in’.

“In the Highlands, we have a lot of rivers, swimming holes and creeks which can be a bit unpredictable,” says Jason.

“You often hear news reports of children getting into trouble in the water and adults going in to help. Unfortunately, when those adults can’t swim either, the outcome can be tragic.”

2 // Confidence from nailing a new skill

“The most significant change you see in an adult who has learnt to swim is their confidence,” Jason says.

“It skyrockets and that translates across all aspects of their lives.”

So many people have had negative experiences with learning how to swim when they were a child. Maybe you were chucked into the pool when you were little with the old ‘sink or swim’ mentality and you’ve been traumatised by that. Or you’ve had a near miss and now have a phobia. Or maybe you’ve just never learnt.“The first step is understanding why they’re in this position and then taking it slowly, plotting out a plan of action together and working on giving them the skills to be safe in the water,” Jason explains.

“I do have to be a psychologist sometimes! So, when they hit milestones like swimming from one side of the pool to the other, it’s fantastic. They’re over the moon!”

3 // Dive in with the Kids and Grandkids

Life can be a little restricted when you don’t know how to swim. Perhaps you avoid swimming pools or beaches or situations where there is water, but once you have kids and/or grandkids, it becomes pretty hard to do that.

“One of the most special elements of a baby learn to swim class is watching the bond develop between the parent and the baby in the water,” says Jason.“Parents who can’t swim may avoid and then miss out on this wonderful opportunity to bond with their baby while being part of teaching them an important life skill.”

Plus, it’s fun to splash around in the pool with the kids when they’re older. Or jump waves together at the beach, and explore rock pools and swimming holes in the warmer months. And the kids love it when Mum or Dad are in the water with them – that’s a given!

4 // Open Up Your Holiday Options

Do you avoid holiday destinations that are by the beach, involve boating or any sort of interaction with water? Well, once you learn how to swim, you can swap the snow skis for poolside cocktails! Bula!

“Swimming is a life skill that gives people the ability to do so much more with their lives,” says Jason.

5 // Improved Fitness

Swimming is a fantastic form of exercise for adults.

“Doing laps is great because it’s low impact and rewarding. You can build on how many laps you do and the pace you set each time you swim,” Jason says.

Of course, it’s not just about laps and watching the black line. Having the confidence to get in the pool means you can take part in fun aqua aerobics classes too.

“Aqua aerobics burns calories improves flexibility and builds strength. Classes are 45 minutes which is perfect for busy schedules.”So, there you go! Five fab benefits to literally taking the plunge and learning how to swim!

“Different things work for different people. Private lessons may be better for one person or a group learning to swim environment may be better for another,” says Jason.

“The important thing to remember is that if you’re an adult who can’t swim, you are not alone. It’s a life skill that you can absolutely learn. It’s amazing to watch the transformations that we see in and out of the pool when someone learns such a vital new life skill.”

So, what are you waiting for? Tick this one off your bucket list and get in touch with Aquabliss Frensham.

As a nation, swimming is practically in our DNA.

Many Aussies love the water, and who can blame us? Australia’s coasts are lined with beautiful beaches, providing a splash of relief on hot, summer days.

As humans, our connection to water goes even deeper than this. Did you know our bodies are made of 60 percent water?

Water is the key to life, nourishing the planet and sustaining every system in our bodies.

Tragically, water is also the destroyer of life – drowning claims the lives of hundreds of Australians every year and it’s the leading cause of accidental death for children under three

This is why it’s vital that all Aussies learn how to swim.

Safety in water – swimming lessons for babies, children and adults

There’s no “one-size fits all” approach, when it comes to getting your child (or yourself) comfortable with the water.

But it’s best to start from a young age. The earlier, the better – since the risk of drowning is greatly reduced for children who’ve learnt to float on their own before turning three.

For babies, professionally taught lessons are useful from six months – while their bodies hang onto the memory of floating in their mother’s womb and they’re likely to feel at home in the water (thanks to this aquatic instinct)..

Parents who’ve taught their little ones how to swim know that it can be a daunting experience…for the child, as well as for mum and dad!

Swimming lessons take some of this pressure off. Our qualified Austswim instructors use the best and safest methods to ease children (of all ages) into the water, so you know that your child is in good hands.

Every child is different, as anyone with a brood of kids living under their roof can tell you.

At Aquabliss, we make sure our lessons honour individual growth and development while focusing on activities such as floating, breath control and submersion.

We work closely with children to make sure they’ve mastered each skill, before moving onto the next level. Our small classes move together, as we teach children in groups based on their age or ability level, while also catering to individual differences.

Whether you’re at the beach, visiting a friend with a pool, or enjoying a family picnic by the river – there’s no avoiding the water in Australia. It’s a relief to know you won’t need to watch your child like a hawk when they know how to swim.

And if the lessons are for you, there’s no shame in that. In fact, you’re in good company, since many adults don’t know how to swim. We teach the basics to people of all ages, or show them how to improve their wobbly technique.

This is especially useful if you haven’t gone swimming in years!

Swim for fitness, swim for fun…

The benefits of swimming go far beyond its life-saving potential, so it’s worth learning to do well.

Swimming does wonders for fitness, health and wellbeing. It’s a great way to improve flexibility, build endurance, increase blood circulation and manage your weight – while your body is being soothed by the cooling water.

Water is buoyant and gentle on the limbs, which makes it easier to do exercises which are challenging on land. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is the easy way out, it’s not. Water provides 12 to 14 per cent more resistance than exercising on land.

Swimming is also a great way to release stress, practise discipline and renew your energy.

There’s no shortage of classes to try at Aquabliss…

We offer Parent and Child classes, Learn to Swim classes, Fitness & Competitive Squads, Aqua Aerobics, Adult Learn to Swim and Adult Squads.

Get in touch with us to find out more.