The aims of this review were to 1) summarise the breadth and types of research regarding the impact of aquatic exercise on mental health completed to date, 2) provide a clear indication of the intervention type, volume, measurement tools used, and populations best served in relation to this activity and its effectiveness and 3) to identify domains within the literature that can be developed so recommendations can be made for future investigations.
A scoping review was performed under the PRISMA guidelines. A systematic search of Pubmed, SPORTDiscus, PsycInfo and Google Scholar databases was conducted. Studies observing the effect of aquatic exercises on mental health and related parameters were considered for inclusion. The data from the selected studies were then extracted and analysed methodically.
Primary conditions measured
Depression, anxiety, mood, self-esteem, and psychological well-being were the primary mental states for which findings could be clearly extracted.
Of the 1635 articles that resulted from the search, 23 articles met all inclusion criteria. Of these, 12 were randomised controlled trials. Cumulatively, the findings of this review trend towards aquatic exercise being effective in generating positive changes in mental health.
Aquatic exercise, specifically winter swimming, leisure swimming, competitive swimming and aquatic aerobics, can be a promising conservative therapy for mental health management. However, it is recommended that further research be conducted to solidify these findings and establish the long-term effects of this intervention on mental health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines global health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being", and emphasises that mental health, in particular, is vital to our ability as individuals to think, emote and interact with one another59. There is a deep-rooted history of mental illness in society, with references to mental health disorders documented as early as 6500 BCE.16.
However, the once invisible field has only recently gained its due recognition on the global health stage.29 Results from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing in Australia suggest that almost half of the national population (45.5%) will experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime 4. Similarly, statistics from the 2020 Canadian Community Health Survey on Mental Health show that one in seven Canadians used a mental health service between 2016 and 2017 and go on to estimate that a third of Canadians will be affected by a mental illness at some point during their lifetime41.
This scoping review provided a summary of the current literature related to aquatic exercise and its impact on depression, anxiety, mood, self-esteem, and psychological well-being. In addition, it delivers a detailed description of the existing research methods and measurement tools used to evaluate the potential of aquatic exercise in reducing mental health symptoms. All 23 studies reported positive changes in mental health post intervention, with 16 of the studies describing these changes as significant for one or more of the mental states assessed. Therefore, the findings of this review trend towards aquatic exercise being effective in generating improvements in mental health.