By: Karen Bergen B.A. (Hons); RMT; CAT; M.Ed. & Author of “Overcoming SAD: The Happy Hippie Yoga Chick's Guide to Beating Winter Flip-Out”
As summertime is soon upon us, we subtly slip into a slower pace of life. Whether we go to the beach, the cottage or the coast, if we can slip into open water and take a dip, it will transform us body, mind and soul. Swimming in open water is life affirming.
The father of medicine, Hippocrates stated, “Water contributes much to health.” The healing powers of water is not new:
• The first Greek spa was created approximately around 500 BCE. Doctors recommended patients to take refuge and respite by the waters.
• By 25 BCE, Egyptians, and Romans spoke of spiritual illness, in which the body was to be washed with water. This inspired spas like Evian, Vichy, St. Maurice, Bath and Baden-Baden to be built around mineral springs.
• Dr. Robert Wittie, the author of “Scarborough Spa,” wrote in 1660, “drinking and bathing in sea water helps melancholy and hypochondria.
• King George III visited Weymouth spa during his reign from 1789 to 1805, to cure his porphyria, a blood disorder affecting the brain and skin.
• Water helps in labour by promoting relaxation, which decreases cortisol levels (Benfield et al, 2010).
• Researchers at Osaka University discovered that spa bathing decreased cortisol, anxiety, and mental fatigue in college students. In particular, hot water immersion, hot showers, and the simplicity of a footbath increase the parasympathetic nervous system, and decreases the sympathetic.
• A study by (Al-Qubaeissy et al., 2013) looked at 139 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Participants experiencing either hydrotherapy or aquatic fitness felt less pain, and an improvement in mood and muscular strength.
• Water immersion forces blood away from the extremities, and towards the heart and lungs. The heart increases its effort more efficiently, creating 30% more blood volume, which relaxes arterial blood vessels. As a result, the body sends out catecholamines, hormones that decrease stress in relaxation and meditation. At this time the lungs receive more blood, and the pressure that water puts on them makes them work 60% harder, increasing respiratory fitness. Interestingly, only aquatic fitness increases respiratory endurance.
• British doctors (Depledge & Bird, 2012) confirmed the positive effects of water proximity on physical and mental health. Daily outings to coastal areas and natural environments help reduce stress, and promote stronger mental health.
• Similarly, a study entitled “Does living by the coast improve health and wellbeing?” (Wheeler, 2012), analyzed data from over 48 million people in England. Results indicated that people who live near coastal areas tend to be healthier than inland individuals. Participants related a decrease in stress and confusion, and greater feelings of revitalization and improved health when in seaside locations. Many reported that exercising in nature, especially near water improved their mood and self-esteem.
• American Consumer’s Report indicated that Ohio had the highest sale of spear guns, suggesting that these inland individuals endeavor to visit the ocean.
• John Hart, from the Center of Brain Health in Dallas states that, “when patients engage with water, it impacts all their senses, and overrides negative thoughts. When we are in water, we have to interact with it. It’s a challenge to master, yet at the same time it is disengaging us to think of bad things. “
• Surfing expert Peter Vanderkliff believes that people living with addictive behaviors should take up surfing. Surfing forces us focus on the present moment. “Surfing requires living in the now and pushing all habits aside.” The habit of the ‘always-on-lifestyle,’ is what creates symptoms such as loss of sex drive, autoimmune diseases, memory problems, poor judgment, nervous habits, anxiety attacks, depression, and societies over reliance on drugs and alcohol.
• Not surprisingly, the Federal Drug Administration states “Selected Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRI/antidepressants) do not perform better than placeboes when fixing mild forms of depression.” However, a program called, “Rivers of Recovery” (ROR), attempts to do just that. ROR takes people on four day fishing trips, with the faith that a day of fishing provides active engagement in a relaxing environment. It is believed that people living with depression, addiction and PTSD can increase their endorphins (our happy chemicals) by experiencing long calm hours of fishing. The University of Southern Maine (2009), studied 67 veterans participating in the ROR program on three occasions: one month before commencement, last day of treatment, and a month after the program finished. Self-reports suggest that negative mood and perceptual stress when down 19 %. Physical stress decreased 28%, sleep problems lessened 11%, depression decreased 44 %, and anxiety lessened 32%. Serenity increased 67%, assuredness improved 33%, and positive mood enhanced 47 %.
Research on the effects of water and the human body has always proved positive. Whether we spend time in, under or around it, water keeps our health and us buoyant. Taking time to bask, play and frolic in its flow transforms, and teaches us how to swim with its current, and float with its tide.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach. -30-