We’re all familiar with the benefits that swimming can have on the body, but have you ever considered moving away from the indoor pool and into open waters? It’s a habit that more and more people are getting involved with, for the mental and physical health benefits it can provide. For business leaders, there are several advantages to taking up this outdoor pursuit, from stress management to an improvement in mood and fewer absences.
The ability to cope with stress
Swimming is an activity that can induce a better stress response, according to studies that indicate it reduces excess cortisol that triggers our fight-or-flight response. The temperature of the water when you swim outdoors triggers the same stress reaction in the body that might occur when we find ourselves in a stressful or frightening situation, which increases cortisol and our heart rate.
While chronic stress is bad for our health, little and often helps the body learn how to adapt which keeps your baseline stress response in everyday life lower too. That means that when you’re dealing with unforeseen situations in the workplace, your body is able to adapt far quicker and return to a normal state faster than it would normally, which is better for your health and your mental state.
A concern for any business owner is lost productivity due to an absence, not just in their staff but also for themselves. But open water swimming can reduce the risk as it has the potential to boost your immune system. The reason is that cold waters can reduce excess production of certain hormones, which impair our immunity, and increase the white blood cell count due to the body forcing itself to react to the extreme temperatures. This makes the body more resistant to infection and can help guard your defences against viruses and germs.
A boost to your mental health
Open water swimming doesn’t just improve your body’s physical defences, it can also make you more mentally resilient too. The process of forcing yourself to stay in these conditions alone improves your mental strength and builds courage. And that can have a positive knock-on effect to your mental health, something researchers have proven in recent years.
Open water swimming is an activity that can provide you with a sense of achievement, in a way that indoor swimming can’t quite match up to, and this confidence in your abilities can help you in the workplace. It reiterates to you the importance of being comfortable with the uncomfortable, and the rewards that come from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
The ability to adapt
In the workplace, we have to be able to adapt to new challenges. Business leaders, in particular, can be thrust into new environments, with new people or take on unique projects all the time, and they need to be able to think on their feet and adapt in order to thrive. Open water swimming is an activity that can help leaders to develop their ability to adapt and to learn to thrive in different circumstances.
From the mental agility it takes to cope with different environments that open waters provide, to the way our bodies physically adapt to cope with the cold, this form of swimming can do wonders for a business leader’s ability to shift direction and change tact.
Swimmers dedicated to their craft practise often and typically early in the morning before their day gets going. As with any exercise, the process of sticking to a routine and developing your skills is a valuable lesson in life. No matter how difficult your routine might be, making the effort to keep going and persevering to see results helps you to develop discipline – a skill that’s essential to any workplace, especially for leaders.
It’s something that amateur athlete Joanna Shimwell has found through her open water swimming efforts: “taking on sport and really trying to work at something has given me a sense of purpose and focus and I’ve learned about discipline. I now find that I’ve got grit and determination that I can put into challenging areas of work. It’s just helping me feel better equipped to handle the negative things and the tough things that life throws at you.”
Incorporating open water swimming into your routine
So, how can business leaders incorporate this beneficial exercise into their routine and start reaping the rewards? There are a few options. Cold showers are one way to ease the feeling of colder temperatures, and they can offer similar health benefits until you’re ready to hit larger expanses of water. Just start off with 30-60 seconds of cold water in the mornings to get your body used to cold waters, as going in too fast can shock the body.
Natural pools are also a great alternative if you don’t want to swim in lakes or the sea, offering greater privacy and accessibility. As one leading pool builder explains, “designed to offer the same kind of experience of swimming in a lake or the river, natural pools don’t require chemicals to run, relying instead on natural resources to keep the water clean and safe to swim in.” They give you the opportunity to swim at a time that suits your schedule, and from the comfort of your home, with all of the additional benefits to regular outdoor swimming.
Once you’re ready to hit larger open waters, make sure you ease in slowly, going into the water for a few minutes and gradually increasing the time spent in the water until your body is able to cope more effectively. Make sure you’ve got the right kit to get started and consider joining a local open water swimming group in your area to meet other like-minded people.
Swimming, just like leadership, requires you to dive in and keep going to stay afloat. With time and dedication, leaders can improve their skills in the workplace and in the water, strengthening their mind, their focus and their physical strength in one.
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