In an interview the Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte recently said to reach the top the ability to motivate yourself, a high sense of duty and pronounced learning skills are more important than the physique of a swimmer. Ruta's assumptions are confirmed by a study for which Olympic champions were compared with less successful athletes. As the results showed top athletes tend to have higher mental strength, which means they are more able to cope with pressure and anxiety, they have improved attention and concentration skills, increased work ethic and, overall, are more optimistic.
Such studies, however, always raise the question of the direction of the effect: are these athletes successful because they had these personality traits from the beginning or have these characteristics developed over the course of their career? There have been a number of studies that have examined athletes of various levels over a longer period of time, sometimes even over years, to explore the impact of sport on our psyche.
Swimming improves your well-being
Studies have shown that athletes get to know their body better by practicing sport, which means they are trained to listen to internal signals such as pain or emerging illnesses. In addition, people who exercise regularly have less anxiety, a lower susceptibility to depression and a lower level of stress. It often seems counterintuitive at first: Especially those who come home from work or from school mentally stressed should get up and go for a swim. Sport stresses our body, but the onset of relaxation has a strong stress-reducing effect on our mind. In addition, sport distracts and leaves the mind free for new cognitive tasks.
Swimming makes you more confident
Self-confidence is another key element of mental well-being. According to a study conducted by the University of Griffith in Australia, swimming boosts your self-esteem. Even younger swimmers have a higher self-esteem than peers who are not in a swimming club. It is only possible to speculate where these differences come from. It is quite possible that it has something to do with the fact that swimming takes place in a medium that is rather unknown to humans. Proper handling in and with the water may allow faster learning, researchers said. And this can have a positive impact on our self-confidence. In addition, there is an increasingly realistic self-assessment.
Swimming promotes goal orientation
Most swimmers regularly jump into the pool, because they have set a goal: swimming a new personal best, breaking the club record, or winning a championship title. Over a longer period of time swimmers not only learn how to practice and train properly, but also to overcome pain and extend their own boundaries. The longer you swim, the greater the likelihood of setbacks that you have to learn to deal with as well as evaluate victories realistically. The nice thing is that swimming is a (sometimes brutally) honest sport. In the end, usually those who trained the hardest, lastured the longest and most worked on their technique are the ones on top. We can hardly influence the performance of the opponent on the other lane. This is also positive for a swimmer's head, because numerous studies have shown that those who can trace their successes back to their own efforts and their own will not only live healthier, but are also generally more successful.
Swimming makes you smart
And another particularly nice positive effect at the end: Swimming makes you smart! Many of you will have secretly known it all the time anyway. Unfortunately, this effect is not directly measurable, which means that not every lane equals an increase of your own IQ. But there are indirect effects that support this claim. Because, as several studies have shown, especially in endurance sports like swimming, regular exercise leads to an increase in brain cells and improved neuronal connections. And also the above-mentioned mental well-being plays a role here again. Stress and anxiety tend to limit our cognitive abilities. Swimming reduces anxiety and stress. Therefore, it improves our ability to think. So what are you waiting for? You can read as much as you want about the positive effects of swimming on our psyche - in the end, you decide whether you want to get up and dive into the next pool. Pack your bag and go for a swim! Your body and your mind will thank you.
picture credit: Alibek Käsler