Even a leisurely swim can burn upwards of 400 calories per hour, more than twice the amount of walking.
The relatively low impact of water activities as opposed to running makes them ideal outlets for those with minor injuries, as well as the elderly.
And it’s not just short-term gains, there are also permanent benefits to swimming.
While the physical enhancements of swimming are widely documented, the mental health benefits of getting into the water are less well known, but just as impressive.
It is increasingly understood that swimming in open water – at naturally cooler temperatures – has mental health benefits.
For those who want to counteract the cold, the hormone dopamine is released by reaching the cold water, ensuring a rush of endorphins that can last for hours after being dehydrated.
Just being in a so-called “blue environment”, near an ocean or body of water, is known to reduce stress responses.
“My first thought when I was diving under the surface of the water was that I felt a little more refreshed than usual, probably due to the extra weight from the quarantine,” Lieber said.
“But as I continued to slip through the water, my initial anxiety about weight gain replaced a feeling of relief, as if the water was cleaning me from the stress that had built up during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Stroke After a stroke, I was feeling better in my mood, clearing my mind and relaxing my body.”
Based in the UK, Mental Health Swims is a volunteer-led peer support community that organizes open water meetings across the UK.
After receiving her mental health diagnosis in 2018, Ash started running but lost confidence after some frightening slips on the ice during the winter.
By the end of the year, she was feeling “really unwell” and “everything was a challenge,” but on New Year’s Day, Ash – quite literally – dived into a new future.
In defiance of the “Loony Dook” – an annual event that sees brave participants take off into the freezing waters near Edinburgh, Scotland – Ashe returns to shore trembling but has changed.
Six months later, 30 people joined Ashe for the swim meet and the group’s growth has been significant since then, even through the pandemic.
This year, Mental Health Swims will host more than 80 swim meet – from Cornwall in southwest England all the way to Loch Lomond in Scotland – led by volunteer trained swim hosts with a focus on inclusion and peer support.
The reasons for joining vary. For some, this is a sense of community, while others seek mental alertness and a rush of endorphins after swimming.
Ash loves water as an alternative safe space away from the more intimidating environment of the gym, a passion that breathed new life into her mental health.
“I’ve learned that my disagreements are a strength and not something I’m ashamed of,” Ash said. “I never thought I could do the things I do today.
“I will always have mental illness, but I’m much better at taking care of myself these days. I still feel great, but with medication, therapy, outdoor swimming, healthy relationships and happiness, I’m really, really good.”
Few are more apt to talk about the physical and mental health benefits of swimming than Sarah Waters, who lives in the coastal county of Cornwall.
After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis during her undergraduate studies, Waters has lived with symptoms of chronic inflammatory disease for more than a decade.
Aggressive treatments and medications proved to be very draining, and after she returned from traveling and working in Australia, the lump on her neck turned out to be skin cancer.
The physical and emotional toll of cancer removals and changing treatments has been compounded by the need for protection during the pandemic, but Waters’ fortunes took a turn when — after a small push from her mother — she began swimming in the sea.
“She started going and kept saying, ‘You should come, it’s really helping with your mental health,'” Waters told CNN.
“When you go out, you get a little bit of a rush, like you’ve just woken up somehow. I know that sounds really weird, but it definitely gives you that subtle feeling that you’ve achieved something you never did that I think you would be able to do before.”
And so he began a strict adherence, even during the winter, to swimming two to three times a week—sometimes Waters’ only way to leave the house due to protection requirements.
For Waters, these bodily elements line up with mental health benefits.
“You always get a sense of fear, right before going in like, ‘Can you do that?’” Waters said. “
“But I do and then, it’s a sense of accomplishment in a way, for your physical and mental health, it’s definitely doing something.
“With all the medication, you can feel very tired a lot of times — when you have a day off, you’re too tired to feel like you have the energy to do it — — but once you do, it energizes you.
“Once you begin to improve your symptoms of anxiety or depression, this can also give you physical benefits.”
After completing his first swim over a year ago, Dr. Lieber looked forward to starting a four-night work in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
“I usually dread the first night shifts,” he said. “But somehow the task seemed more manageable than usual.
“Whatever happens tonight, it will happen. Whatever happens, there will always be tomorrow.”