Ōtepoti – A growing body of research suggests that swimming produces brain-enhancing effects, such as better immune response.
Science has already shown that aerobic exercise can slow ageing.
Neuroscientists are still working to understand exactly why swimming is particularly beneficial in preventing aging – and may be close to the answer.
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.
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.
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.
Swimming has long been recognized for its cardiovascular benefits. Another study has compared cognition between land-based athletes and swimmers in the young adult age range.
Researchers found that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity breaststroke swimming improved cognitive function in both groups.