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Mental Health Day: How swimming improved the lives of three women

Maria Parker-Harris, Maria Davey and Sylvia MacGregor say swimming has helped them with depression and anxiety.

More than one million people find swimming significantly reduces their symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, according to a YouGov poll, commissioned by Swim England.

But what is it about having a dip in the pool that can help mental health?

Three women tell us about the impact swimming has had on them:

Maria Parker-Harries - how swimming helped overcome anxiety and depression

Maria Parker-Harris from Bournemouth struggled with her mental health following long-term infertility and fertility treatment. She signed up to the Aspire Channel Swim, which gave her the time and space to process these feelings and let out her frustrations and fear. She later fell pregnant and is now a mother to daughter Lily Hope.

“Suddenly, it seemed like everyone was pregnant or had babies around me and I isolated myself from friends because I couldn’t cope with my own struggle to conceive. My fertility doctor just suggested I lose 10% of my body weight to try and kickstart my reproductive system so I began swimming.

“It gives you the space to work through anything that’s been bothering you, the time to lighten your load so when you leave the pool, you feel physically stronger and emotionally lighter. It’s time just for me.”

Maria Davey - how swimming helped overcome anxiety and depression

Maria Davey from Penzance was born with a complex heart condition and had three surgeries by the age of five. She suffered from anxiety in her twenties as a result of her condition and turned to food and alcohol as a source of comfort.

“I began swimming thanks to the advice of my heart specialist, to support my recovery from more surgery, both physically and emotionally.

“I feel so alive when I’m in the water and all of my worries seem to melt away. Afterwards, I feel ready to face the world and feel as though I’ve achieved something.

“Swimming allows me to take time for myself and has done wonders for my health – both mentally and physically.”

Sylvia MacGregor

Sylvia MacGregor from Stepney suffered severe burns after an accident as a child and struggled with anxiety, depression and PTSD for much of her teen and early adult years.

“The effects of swimming are limitless. Besides the health and fitness benefits, I believe that swimming was the only thing in my life that I truly loved. My mental health went downhill when I stopped swimming but as soon as I was back in the pool, I was at my happiest.”

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Swimming and mental health – the stats

According to the YouGov poll:

  • 1.4 million adults say swimming has benefited their mental health.
  • Nearly half a million swimmers say they have reduced the number of visits to a medical professional regarding their mental health condition.
  • More than 497,000 people have reduced or no longer take medication for their mental health condition as a result of swimming.

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BBC Sport – Swimming

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