There are a number of outdoor activities that, beyond their exhilarating or tranquil experiences, are being sought after for their significant mental health benefits. It has long been known that taking oneself outdoors to engage in physical activities, especially in stunning natural environments, can have a positive effect upon our wellbeing, and it is something that the pandemic and its resulting lockdowns have prompted more people around the world to take seriously.
Many of the most popular of these activities involve watersports, such as surfing, wild swimming, and stand-up paddleboarding. These activities see an individual or group take to exploring and travelling across bodies of water, immersing themselves in rivers, lakes, and oceans, each one offering various paces and sights. Watersports have become especially popular because there are numerous unique properties of their experience, those that improve our wellness. Below, we share how they are being effectively utilised to improve mental health.
One of the most common descriptors used by watersports communities is stress-free or calming. Being out on or in the water, separated from the land, washes away, quite literally, the stressors of our land-based activity. The water’s ability to immerse our bodies, as well as rock us with tides, has been shown to reduce stress and bring about a calmness, which is especially true of more easy-going watersports, such as SUP and kayaking.
Many watersports are also considered to be physically low-impact, meaning that it is not only accessible to a wider variety of people, each of whom may have different levels of endurance. Swimming, for example, can be much easier than running for many because the water supports their movement. Such activities also work to lower cortisol levels, the body’s chemical responsible for stress.
A significant part of watersports appeal is the social potential it brings. With widespread and well-populated communities of enthusiasts, water-focussed activities like surfing and scuba diving, are excellent endeavours for those looking to pick up an outdoor activity that they can enjoy with friends or help them establish new friendships. This is also great for those looking to develop their social skills, such as teenagers, helping them to connect positively with both their surroundings and other people.
Local groups will often enjoy a watersport together, which helps many newcomers learn how to feel safe at sea or in a river, especially when exploring new areas. And, at a time when many are experiencing mental health concerns regarding social distances, the outdoor nature of watersports remains ideal as it supports safe distance between those participating, helping to reduce health concerns.
As with many outdoor activities, there is an improvement to mental health that comes from one’s physical changes. Pursuing and improving upon a physical ability helps people to feel accomplished when achieving new goals or overcoming anxiety, while the physical changes our body’s might experience can also lead many to feel better about themselves.
Watersports accommodate a variety of exercises and often involve full-body workouts, especially if involving swimming. Some seek to pursue watersports for relaxation and not physical exertion, for which there are many options too. Yoga and meditation can be combined with wild swimming and SUP, for example. The potential locations one can be immersed within, even simply being a short distance away from the shore or riverbank, can bring essential isolation and solitude to those looking to find balance.