Open water swimming as a treatment for major depressive disorder

BMJ Case Rep. 2018 Aug 21:2018:bcr2018225007. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2018-225007.


A 24-year-old woman with symptoms of major depressive disorder and anxiety had been treated for the condition since the age of 17. Symptoms were resistant to fluoxetine and then citalopram. Following the birth of her daughter, she wanted to be medication-free and symptom-free. A programme of weekly open (cold) water swimming was trialled. This led to an immediate improvement in mood following each swim and a sustained and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression, and consequently a reduction in, and then cessation of, medication. On follow-up a year later, she remains medication-free.

Keywords: mood disorders (including depression); sports and exercise medicine.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Swimming / physiology*