We just purchased the remodeled No. 6 school house in our little town. We even have the original carved schoolhouse sign from when it was first built in 1882!
Even better than the historical features (at least in the kids’ minds) are the ponds on the property, which channel the runoff of the mountain springs within the national forest around us… providing for a most excellent swimming hole. We much prefer this arrangement to a backyard swimming pool.
“Swimming holes” are just what I want to talk about today. There’s something a bit magical about water, you know?
Besides the entertainment of salamanders, bullfrogs, and jumping trout – or shells, crabs, and sand castles, depending on your location – there are several key health benefits from contact with natural waters and in particular, swimming in them.Let’s examine the 5 key reasons why we should seek to find and swim in clean, natural waters as much as we possibly can!
#1 Contact with natural waters stimulates and boost the immune system
To quote Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, who developed the gut and autoimmune healing GAPS protocol:
“GAPS people should swim in the natural waters of lakes, rivers and the sea instead of the toxic chemical soup of swimming pools. Natural waters are full of life, biological energy from plants and different creatures, minerals, enzymes, and many other beneficial substances. Swimming in natural waters has been prized as a therapy for many health problems for centuries. Obviously, you have to make sure the water you swim in is as far as possible from any source of industrial pollution.” Swimming in natural waters is also listed in her Top 10 Immunity Boosters. (1)
There has been research done showing that regular immersion in cold water is a mild stressor and immune stimulant, increasing white blood cell count, an important part of our immune system.
Ocean swimming therapy has also been around since the times of the Romans and Hippocrates. Used for medicinal purposes it’s called thalassotherapy. Seawater is full of minerals, amino acids, trace minerals, and has a composition that is much the same as our blood plasma.
#2 Swimming in natural waters triggers the release of endorphins
Endorphins are self-made chemicals that give us the happy, satisfied feelings of well-being. The mental benefits of swimming are outlined in this excerpt from Swimmer magazine:
“Regardless of cause, a growing number of researchers and psychologists alike have become true believers in the efficacy of swimming. ‘We know, for instance, that vigorous exercise like swimming can significantly decrease both anxiety and depression,’ says sports psychologist Aimee C. Kimball, director of mental training at the Center for Sports Medicine at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. ‘Currently, there’s a ton of research looking at the various mechanisms by which it works.’
On the physiological level, hard swimming workouts release endorphins, natural feel-good compounds whose very name derives from “endogenous” and “morphine.” Swimming serves, as well, to sop up excess fight-or-flight stress hormones, converting free-floating angst into muscle relaxation. It can even promote so-called “hippocampal neurogenesis” – the growth of new brain cells in a part of the brain that atrophies under chronic stress. In animal models, exercise has shown itself to be even more potent than drugs like Prozac at spurring such beneficial changes.
Moby Coquillard, a psychotherapist and swimmer from San Mateo, Calif., is so convinced that he prescribes exercise to depressed patients. “I absolutely believe swimming can serve as a kind of medicine. For me, it represents a potent adjunct to antidepressant medications and, for some patients, it’s something you can take in lieu of pills.
#3 Natural waters swimming jump starts blood circulation
Flushing, moving, cleansing the skin, and going back to the inner organs. You can enhance this process by taking a sauna and then jumping into cold water…talk about an electric feeling!
From the Daily Mail in the UK…“People say they feel great after a sea or river swim, which may be because the chilly water activates cold sensors all over our bodies — cells positioned just 0.18 millimeters under our skin — which in turn increase heart rate and give us that “alive” feeling,” explains Michael Tipton, professor of human and applied physiology at Portsmouth University.
“The cold sensors also trigger a sudden burst of adrenaline that diverts our attention away from our aches and pains, creating the feel-good factor. It’s effectively a natural painkiller.”
When we put our whole bodies in cold water, the blood moves quickly away from our extremities, going to our major organs, and then back again to skin and extremities as we warm up.
#4 Natural waters are essential to a healthy, outdoor life
The year that our family took time to travel the western half of the U.S., we picked up a fascinating book to read to the kids. It was called Adopted By Indians, and was the true life account of a pioneer boy raised in the peaceful, happy life of the Choinumne Indians of California’s Central Valley, and how they lived their lives (before their land and way of life was taken away).
Part of their everyday (mostly outdoors) routine was an early morning bath in the river. Young and old bathed before sunrise, and dried off by the fire (no towels…no laundry…sounds good to me). It is good to be outside as much as possible.
#5 Natural waters are a great way to play (which we all need more of!)
I think most of us know intuitively the importance of play for children. Maybe far less of us realize that play is necessary for adult health and mental well-being as well.
For me personally, as the mother of four playful kids, I have had long periods of losing my sense of play, and almost feeling incapable of even knowing HOW to DO play. Motherhood and life are tough jobs, and if we are not careful to care for ourselves, we will lose that sense of playfulness that is so vital to our well-being.
Consider these points:
- An adult who has “lost” what was a playful childhood and doesn’t play will demonstrate social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, be less able to handle stress, and often experience depression
- Play is the gateway to vitality
- The prevalence of depression, stress related diseases, interpersonal violence, addictions, and other health and well being problems can be linked, like a deficiency disease, to the prolonged deprivation of play.
- According to the National Institute of Play, play generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.
- Nothing lights up the brain like play
- Playfulness gives us a leg up on adaptability as a species
Water brings out the play in us! We float, we dive, we see if we can stick our legs up in the air straight, we splash each other….
Here in Vermont where I live, there are plenty of mountain river swimming holes. People swim in them, but what is sheer fun is to wear some sturdy water shoes and “boulder” up river, jumping from rock to rock, dipping in the swimming holes, figuring out how to navigate around small waterfalls…adventure and improvisation are so invigorating.
So, let’s get in the natural waters, shall we? How close is your nearest swimming hole?
In the meantime … I’m heading out for a dip.
Sources and More Information
Dangers of Chlorinated Pools (and how to protect yourself)
Melanie Christner is a NTP, Certified GAPS Practitioner, and Mom of 4 who lives in Vermont. She is the creator of Honest Body and hosts an online GAPS class several times a year. Melanie delights in helping people apply healing protocols to everyday life and becoming friends with their bodies again.