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Sure, an intense session of lap swimming can give you a stress-busting "runner's high" of endorphin release without overstressing your joints. But even a leisurely paddle in the pool can boost your mood. Jack Raglin, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at Indiana University, found that light exercise (such as a leisurely swim), during which participants were not exercising hard enough to generate endorphins, still produced significant mood improvements.
"The swimmers I work with daily feel they can 'face the day better' after getting out of the pool," says Bruce Becker, MD, a professor at Washington State University College of Education who specializes in the effects of aquatic immersion and exercise on human physiology. "That effect is seen with exercise in general, but it seems to be more true with exercise in water, although we're not sure exactly why." Even splashing around with the kids should have a positive effect on the nervous system, Dr. Becker speculates. If you can't make it to the swimming pool, other types of aquatic immersion, like a soak in a bath or a hot tub, offer more accessible stress relief. Even a splash in the sink might help. (For more details on that, read on!)