How does swimming and other physical activity impact your mental health?

April 7, 2017 Published by

Get out your swimsuits –  research says swimming is great for mental wellbeing

Taking children swimming – particularly younger ones – doesn’t always bring up memories of feeling happy or calm. But it turns out that swimming is actually very good for your mental wellbeing, so it might be worth all of the wrestling with armbands and dancing around in the changing rooms.

The research, carried out on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (2014), looked at the art and sport activities of 40,000 households in the UK and how involvement in these was associated with life satisfaction¹*. They found that swimming was most strongly linked with positive wellbeing, although only a third of people surveyed go regularly.

Swimming is brilliant cardio exercise too, helping keep children fit and healthy, and encouraging strong muscles and bones. This helps fight health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Exercise is also really valuable for fighting older children’s ‘body image’ issues too, as they reach puberty and their bodies start to change. Some children don’t consider themselves to be ‘sporty’ and so will avoid physical activity altogether, but swimming offers a great alternative that isn’t all about competition.

Why is mental wellbeing important?

Our brain is arguably the most valuable organ in our bodies, so we need to keep it in shape. We’ve talked in the past about the importance of rethinking mental health because, while many of us worry about eating healthy or exercising, we often forget to look after our wellbeing.

It’s not just an important value to instil in your children though. Taking care of yourself mentally is crucial, because if you are miserable and stressed you are not in the best position to raise a happy, contented child. Making the time to focus on your own wellbeing means you are contributing to your overall health and providing a good role model for your son or daughter to copy from.

Further benefits of other out-of-school activities

The report by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (2014) suggested that many other activities are connected with being happier too:

    • taking part in dance or drama
    • doing crafts
    • watching plays or music performances
    • playing team (e.g. football, hockey) and individual sports (e.g. cycling, martial arts)
    • visiting the library

Last year a study funded by the Nuffield Foundation (2016) looked specifically at the benefits of out of school activities for children². Supporting the research above, the researchers found better social, emotional and behavioural outcomes for children who took part in physical activities.

The study also showed that children who took part in clubs such as Cub Scouts and Brownies, choir, arts, crafts, chess and drama, or physical activities, attained higher scores at Key Stage 2 in Maths and English.

Spending quality time together is a great way to bond, so what better way than to take part in an activity that will give the whole family a wellbeing boost?

Please note that this report uses correlation, which means we can’t assume that taking part in the activity was the reason for better wellbeing.
For example, people who take part in dance or drama might be have a more positive outlook on life generally.


¹ Fujiwara, D., Kudrna, L., and Dolan, P. (2014). Quantifying and valuing the wellbeing impacts of culture and sport.

² Tanner, E., Chanfreau, J., Callanan, M., Laing, K., Paylor, J., Skipp, A. and Todd, L. (2016). Can out of school activities close the education gap? (Briefing Paper 4). (

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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