Being the hottest of the four seasons, nothing beats a refreshing summer swim — especially while enjoying the outdoors.
Although swimming has been shown to support weight loss, build cardiovascular strength, and enhance overall fitness, this beneficial aerobic exercise can also have a significant influence on your mental well-being. If you have access to a local lake or river, great! If not, a pool will also do the trick.
3 Ways Swimming Supports Positive Mental Health
Remaining active in general will have a positive impact on your mood and mental well-being. As reported in one key review, swimming is the only sport to be recommended in over 80 percent of medical cases and is accessible to practically everyone, including children and the elderly.
When you actively swim, you will successfully:
1. Prompt the release of endorphins and other feel-good brain chemicals
Like all exercises, swimming releases endorphins in your brain, which results in a “runner’s high.” These “feel good” hormones help reduce emotional stress, relieve pain, and offer a general sense of well-being.
Swimming also has an impact on serotonin levels, which helps control your brain’s response to depression and anxiety. One study found that swimming significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety for 1.4 million adults in Britain.
2. Encourage quality time with those you love
Since swimming is a low-impact, affordable activity, it is highly accessible. This means that it can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Positive family relationships have been shown to have a significant positive effect on mental and physical health, as well as general happiness and life satisfaction.
It’s also important to note that one family member’s mental health can impact others. This is particularly the case regarding parental depression and children. By actively improving your mental health, for instance, your efforts could have a domino effect.
3. Significantly reduce stress levels
Research shows that swimming reduces stress. One survey found that:
- 74 percent of those surveyed agreed that swimming helps them release stress and tension.
- More than two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that swimming had a positive impact on their mental health, with 70 percent saying that this activity helps them feel mentally refreshed.
- 68 percent reported that swimming is a “feel good” exercise, as they feel good about themselves while in the water.
Why Swim Outdoors?
All of the above benefits can be achieved in an environment. These effects are linked to the act of swimming. However, for those who would like to experience additional mental health perks, aim for an outdoor swimming experience.
Related: Nourishing our Minds in Nature
There is an immense amount of research that showcases the relationship between nature and positive mental health. While reductions in stress and anxiety are the most common positive effects, nature has also been shown to promote psychological healing, improving symptoms of depression, PTSD, and other mental health disorders.
5 Summer Recipes That Fuel the Body and Mind
“I can’t control everything in my life, but I can control what I put in my body.” — Food Matters
When you think of the best summer foods, what comes to mind? Barbecued meats and vegetables? Watermelon? Pasta salad? Corn on the cob?
All of the above are reminiscent of summer — but not all foods and recipes are created equal when it comes to fuelling your body and mind. Once you understand the impact that food has on physical and mental health, nutrition can become an incredible healing tool.
The Best “Summer” Foods for Mental Health
Nutritional psychiatry has received a lot of attention over the past decade, focusing on the complex relationship between diet, the structure and function of the brain, as well as mood.
Whether you aim to combat symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, it’s important to take a holistic approach. That means in addition to seeking professional therapy, you should also address your current lifestyle, beginning with what you put in your body.
Just some of the best “summer” foods to become more mindful of include:
- Dark leafy greens — Offering a wide array of nutrients, dark leafy greens have been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, particularly in relation to folate and B vitamins. Summer is all about salads and fresh produce. Greens such as kale, spinach, and collard greens have also been shown to slow cognitive decline.
- Raw fruits and vegetables — Having a barbecue? Don’t forget about your favorite raw fruits and vegetables. Research shows that the vital micronutrients found in raw produce have been associated with better mental health. Some of the best options include greens, grapefruit, berries, citrus, carrots, cucumber, and kiwi.
- Shrimp and fish — If you’re going to grill something, opt for quality seafood. The research shows that foods rich in omega-3s may help reduce symptoms of depression while supporting optimal brain health.
From peppers to corn, watermelon to purple potatoes, the goal is to eat a high-quality, “rainbow” diet.
Related: Your Brain on Fat
Recipes That Can Help Support Positive Mental Health
The following recipes are made with ingredients that will support your body and mind, all while celebrating summer!
- 53 Healthy Recipes to Get You Ready for Summer (Source: Delish)
- Brain-Boosting Dinner Recipes (Source: Eating Well)
- Watermelon, Endive, and Fig Salad (Source: Bon Appetit)
- Grilled Crispy-Skin Salmon with Lemon-Sesame Sauce (Source: Bon Appetit)
- Shrimp, Mango, and Couscous Skillet (Source: Better Homes & Gardens)
- Mediterranean Three-Bean Salad (Source: Martha Stewart)
For more diet-related resources, check out these Health Hub articles.
You May Have Heard of the Winter Blues, But What About Summer Depression?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive disorder that causes recurrent episodes of depression during the same season each year. Impacting between 4 to 6 percent of the U.S. population, most people associate SAD with the “winter blues.” This is because depression tends to worsen as the days get colder and shorter.
However, for approximately 10 percent of people with SAD, the summer months are what triggers their symptoms of depression. What’s interesting, is that studies have shown that in countries near the equator, summer SAD is more common than winter SAD.
If you are feeling sad, irritable, and anxious, and also have a hard time concentrating and sleeping during the summer months, you may be suffering from summer SAD.
What Causes Summer Depression?
While researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes SAD, experts believe that there are both environmental and biological triggers at play. Some believe that individuals with SAD simply have higher sensory processing sensitivity.
Individuals with SAD often have trouble regulating serotonin. There are also often issues with melatonin production. While winter SAD is often linked to a lack of sunlight, summer SAD may be caused by too much sunlight. Longer days, as well as increased heat and humidity, can increase feelings of agitation and oppression.
Being more common in young adults and women, there are also ethnic and cultural differences in regard to SAD sensitivity.
Overall, some of the potential underlying causes include:
- Body image issues, as soaring temperatures call for fewer layers. Summertime gatherings also revolve around pools, beaches, and other settings that can make life difficult for those who are conscious about their bodies. With an influx in activities and vacation time, financial worries can also lead to feelings of mental distress.
- Schedule changes (i.e. seasonal occupations, such as teachers). Significant changes to one’s structure can trigger feelings of depression.
- Increased alcohol consumption due to more social events, barbecues, etc. For those at-risk, drinking too much alcohol can worsen symptoms of depression.
- Having bipolar disorder (or a family history of depression) can increase your risk.
How to Combat Summer SAD
Depending on your personal triggers, varying interventions may be recommended. If heat and humidity are an issue, thermal interventions will be recommended. A similar approach will be taken if your symptoms are triggered by changes in light (i.e. you may need to consider light-blocking curtains or darkening shades).
Regardless of what time of year it is, if you’re feeling depressed, it’s important to understand that the way you feel no longer needs to be your “norm.” The goal is to receive professional help so that you can better understand and then address your personal triggers. In addition to therapy, you may want to consider your current sleep patterns, diet, and level of physical activity.
If you need to talk to someone, we’re here. Learn more about us here.
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