Swimming Helps Optimize Your Brain Function And Health

Swimming Helps Optimize Your Brain Function And Health

Open water swimmers know the benefits of swimming. Spouses of swimmers see it. Children of swimmers sense it. Coaches develop it.

Strength, stamina, functional movement, and cognitive function are all well maintained with a regular swimming regimen. “Add some intensity in the pool via interval training, walking on the sand at the beach, and an occasional immersion in cold water – and that is a real-world practical Fountain of Youth,” promotes Steven Munatones.

Ryan Glatt, MS, CPT, NBHWC is a psychometrist and a Brain Health Coach at the Brain Health Center in the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California where he focuses on the care of patients with a spectrum of neurological and cranial disorders including brain tumors, skull base tumors, pituitary tumors, spine health, stroke and related neurovascular diseases, adult hydrocephalus, vision and hearing disorders, facial pain and paralysis syndromes, movement disorders as well as sinonasal tumors and related disorders.

Additionally, the Pacific Neuroscience Institute team cares for a wide spectrum of behavioral and cognitive disorder as well as autoimmune and neuroinflammatory disease such as Multiple Sclerosis.

Glatt explained about three types of exercise – aerobic exercise, resistance training, and skill-based training – that can optimize your brain’s function and health, and how to incorporate them into your lifestyle in a Genius Life podcast with Max Lugavere, a television personality, health and wellness writer, science journalist, and New York Times best-selling author of Genius Foods.

Types of Exercises
* aerobic exercise
* resistance training
* skill-based training (or skillful exercise and neuromotive training)

Swimming is multimodal,” says Munatones. “Swimming concurrently enables these three types of exercise. Doing all four strokes in a pool with a standard interval training workout comprises of aerobic exercise, resistance training, and skill-based training. It is similar in the open water, especially if you do different types of sets in the sea, ocean, or lake. You can focus on a faster kick for 500 meter or a kilometer; you can focus on longer or faster arm strokes for another kilometer; you can do some hypoxic drills or even 50-100 meters of butterfly, backstroke or breaststroke in the open water. If you train with a swimming buddy or group, you can also add pace line training and leap frog sets.

Aerobic Exercise
Swimming all four strokes, especially while doing individual medley sets either in the pool or open water, in a standard interval training workout leads to increased heart rate and respiration rate. Also, doing fast or repeated in’s-and-out’s in the ocean after a long swim or pull-out sets in the pool will really get the heart rate going and will help develop the leg and shoulder muscles.

Resistance Exercise
While most people do not think of swimming as resistance exercise, it clearly is. The arm movement while doing butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle involves not only pulling (in the front half of the arm strokes in all four swimming styles), but also pushing (in the last half of the arm strokes in all four swimming styles) for the upper body and core muscles. Pushing and pulling is the essence of resistance exercise.

The long-axis swimming strokes (i.e., backstroke and freestyle) and the short-axis swimming strokes (i.e., butterfly and breaststroke) work on different muscles in different ways. But, in general, the first part of the swimming strokes is a pulling action that primarily works the backs and biceps. The second part of the swimming strokes is a pushing action that primarily works the chest, shoulders and triceps.

By utilizing hand paddles, parachutes, fins, snorkels, and KAATSU Aqua Bands, the outcomes and results in the resistance realm become even greater.

Musculature of 39-year-old woman is seen while using the KAATSU Air Bands on her arms
Masters swimmer shown using the KAATSU Aqua Bands on her legs

Similarly, the leg and core muscles are worked differently in the long-axis and short-axis strokes. The legs either move up and down against the resistance of the water (in butterfly, backstroke, freestyle) or up and back (in breaststroke).

The quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and abdominals are used concurrently while the upper body is used. The lower body gets a focused, intense bout of exercise before and during turns at the walls of a swimming pool.

Skill-based Training
Thinking about how to swim in a more balanced and streamlined manner is a cognitive exercise as is maintaining different paces at different intervals also requires thought.

Additionally, focusing on faster turns (with increased underwater propulsion) and transitioning between butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle at fixed intervals, or progressing faster intervals, or in negative split swims also requires thought.

For the ultimate in cognitive effort, doing intervals based on prime numbers is challenging. That is, instead of doing 10×100@1:30, swimmers can do 7×100@1:27.

Interleaving is a way to arrange memory in a non-contiguous way to increase performance in the fields of computer science and telecommunications.

Munatones explains, “In open water swimming, interleaving is an approach that stresses the use of the body and mind in a non-contiguous way to increase mastery of skills, help in motor learning, and improve memory recall.

Interleaving for open water swimmers includes alternately pulling, kicking, stroke work, sprinting, and distance sets in a workout. It incorporates the use of different strokes and individual medley sets, working on pacingnavigating, positioningfeedingsightingdolphining, and drafting in a workout, performed in a pool and an open body of water. It also includes body surfing if workouts are performed at the beach – a possibility rarely considered by many. It includes training in the morning during tranquil conditions as well as training during windy afternoons where surface chop is a constant nuisance. It includes doing prime number sets, and sets in descending or ascending intervals in the pool as well as POW (Pool Open Water) training, vertical kicking, and dolphin drills.

Interleaving stimulates stress that then leads to the secretion of corticotropin-releasing factor (CPF) in the brain’s hippocampus where memory and learning are centralized and improved.

54-year-old Anthony McCarley finishing a 32.3 km Catalina Channel crossing in 13 hours in 2014.

Photo above shows pool, channel and marathon swimmer Catherine Breed, an alumna of the University of California, Berkeley.

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Steven Munatones