This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2024.The theme for this year, as set by the Mental Health Foundation, is “Movement: Moving more for our mental health”. The aim of this awareness week is to encourage people across the UK to come together to focus on promoting good mental health. The theme emphasises the positive impact of movement and physical activity on mental health, quality of life, and overall well-being and is aimed at encouraging people to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.

As a keen and regular swimmer, I know, from personal experience, that aquatic physical activity has a huge role to play for individuals who are wanting to improve their mental and physical health and well-being. Studies have also shown that there are many benefits to exercising in water. These benefits are numerous and include endorphin release and stress reduction (endorphins being natural mood boosters which reduce stress and anxiety). It has also been demonstrated that the soothing effect of water can lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) which promotes relaxation. Swimming also requires rhythmic breathing, and this can help manage anxiety and panic attacks by improving breath control. Evidence is also emerging that shows that exercise induced increase of blood flow to the brain while swimming, can enhance cognitive function and potentially slow down dementia.

Many people who swim regularly report that swimming provides an escape from daily worries and distractions and report feeling more ‘present in the moment’. The rhythmic strokes, the sensation of water against your skin and the sound of your breath create a meditative experience whether you are gliding through a pool, swimming in the open water or floating on your back, it can be a chance to disconnect from the noise of the world.

As a keen open water swimmer, I can certainly identify with this but have more recently been combining my love of swimming by adding regular pool sessions to my routine. My regular attendance at the same session on the same day every week has generated an increase in the ‘swimming associated social connections’ as myself and the other regulars forge joyous social connections which certainly add an extra dimension to the positive well-being effect. I now book two sessions at the pool, the first one to get some training in and the second one to chat a bit more and it’s glorious! I am lucky enough to live near a wonderful Lido which is nestled in a park in the heart of a community. The staff at the Lido certainly add to the feeling that you are very much part of the community with humorous tannoy announcements and warm smiles to greet you on arrival which adds to the experience. I leave, with a warm glow and a spring in my step, ready to face the day.

If you are new to swimming and wish to improve your skills, many pools now offer adult-only swimming lessons where you can learn basic strokes, improve your technique and build confidence in the water. If lessons aren’t for you then perhaps consider becoming a member at your local leisure centre. Many centres offer affordable membership options or pay-as-you-go access. Swimming is incredibly gentle on the joints making it an excellent exercise for people of all ages.

If outdoor swimming piques your interest, then it is advisable to join a group if you are new to this. The Outdoor Swimming Society provides a list and map of wild swim groups run by volunteers and many triathlon clubs will offer outdoor swimming sessions run by qualified coaches. Similarly, many affiliated swimming clubs offer this and can signpost you to a club that may suit your needs. Find your nearest club here.

The Swim Wales YMLAEN strategy sets a new positive direction and aims to drive growth and development in aquatic sport participation in Wales meaning that aquatics truly can be for everyone for life so if you would like more information on participation options in your area, please get in touch.