Water: powering human performance
Image credit | The Independent
How the Indigenous people of Easter Island could drink water from the sea was a mystery. Until scientists discovered that it wasn’t the salty water they were drinking but freshwater in the ocean supplied by coastal seeps.
To separate drinking water from seawater, inhabitants built underwater dams and constructed wells to intercept the freshwater before it reached the ocean. It’s also believed that the island’s impressive statues and stone platforms indicate where fresh groundwater emerges.
Communities are built near water, not just for survival but because we are drawn to it. Here are three ways humans are harnessing the power of water to improve wellbeing and performance.
Jumping into icy water or taking a cold shower may not be everybody’s idea of fun. But studies suggest that cold water swimming could be an effective treatment for depression.
When you enter cold water, the body responds by releasing the stress hormone cortisol. Our breathing quickens, and heart rate increases. This is the body’s fight or flight response and is the same reaction we experience when confronted by other stressors.
The theory is that repeated exposure may gradually reduce the initial stress response, or the swimmer gets used to the reaction making it seem less severe. Wild swimming is believed to help people cope in different areas of their lives by reducing their response to stress and anxiety.
Blue mind theory
Water has a calming effect on the body and mind, which marine biologist and neuroscientist Wallace J Nichols calls blue mind.
“The term ‘blue mind’ describes the mildly meditative state we fall into when near, in, on, or underwater,” he says. “It’s the antidote to what we refer to as ‘red mind,’ which is the anxious, over-connected, and over-stimulated state that defines the new normal of modern life.”
Research shows that water can improve our sense of physical health and make us feel happier, healthier, calmer, and more creative. According to Nichols, even the sight or sound of water is enough to release neurochemicals into the body that promote wellness and induce relaxation.
Around 60% of the human body is water, so it’s no surprise that dehydration affects health, wellbeing, and performance.
In athletes, fluid loss between 1 per cent and 4 per cent results in reductions in performance. It can also affect cognitive function and motor control, especially when exercise induces dehydration in hot conditions.
Mild dehydration can also affect short-term memory, induce fatigue, and have adverse effects on our mood. Water is an essential part of a balanced diet. In addition to its importance for physical and cognitive performance, adequate hydration is associated with other health benefits.
Discover more about hydration in our myth busting post.
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*Report: The importance of human hydration: perceptions among healthcare professionals across Europe