A Guide To Wild Swimming and the Benefits of Cold Water Therapy
What are the benefits of cold water therapy?
The benefits of cold-water swimming and heading to a local wild swimming spot have been widely touted in recent years, with a multitude of individuals happily taking cold wild swimming “dips” across the globe, often citing the many benefits to our health and wellbeing. From boosting our immune systems and metabolisms, to being a great workout and aiding with circulation, the mental benefits are too becoming well versed and appreciated, and even has been shown by a medical study as a viable alternative to antidepressants.
So unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll probably have noticed that cold water swimming has become incredibly popular. An eccentric Dutch chap of the name of Wim Hof (now with his own BBC TV programme) and a plethora of stoked swimmers and collectives avidly share their experiences, from SLO family member @sophiehellyer in Cornwall, @wildswimmingcornwall, to the various crews of the Bluetits who meet up regularly around the UK (Perranporth, Newquay, St Agnes and more), wild swimming is catching like wildfire.
COLD WATER SWIMMING: RISING LIKE A PHOENIX FROM THE PANDEMIC
During the pandemic as our wellness activities were forced to adapt and morph, wild swimming (along with banana bread, sourdough and The Tiger King) became the most popular kid in the room. For those of us who are in the know, after that initial shock to the system, wild swimming and cold water immersion can indeed have incredible positive benefits to our health, as well as the added extras of enjoying the community it can bring. It’s not just wild swimmers avidly touting the benefits, but health experts have too got into the mix, adding fuel to the fire that there are true health benefits by taking the plunge.
Blue Health is a growing global movement that began in January 2016. Since then it has expanded research, built more discussions and gained popularity throughout the years. Blue Health consists of a 4-year long study of the effects living close to water has on the health of people. The Blue Health study, which surveyed over 18,000 people across Europe found a strong correlation between those living by the coast being more relaxed and healthier than those living further from the coast or bodies of water. It just shows that being closer to the water encourages us to be more active which in turn improves our physical health while also creating a sense of calmness which in turn helps with stress levels.
COLD WATER SWIMMING IS GREAT FOR OUR MENTAL HEALTH, AS WELL AS PHYSICAL
Cold water swimming advocates have multiplied in their droves, and come rain, snow or shine, swimmers can be spotted at wild swimming spots and beaches across the country. Yes, taking a break and breathing in fresh air is fantastic for our well-being, and as well as the physical benefits including a workout and a metabolism boost, cold water immersion can be found to have a viable and real impact on our mental health. Key leading reports from groups including the British Medical Journal, and the Blue Health Report from The Wave in Bristol relay that cold water dips are a viable alternative to antidepressants, plus are a general mood booster.
We recommend reading the book, Blue Mind, written by Dr Wallace J Nichols that passionately speaks of the positive effects that water can have on our emotional, psychological and physical health. Just by being close to the water the mind goes into a meditative state and makes us calmer and happier, he calls water ‘medicine’. We all have our ‘water’, which is our calm and happy place. Whether it be in your bathtub or swimming in the ocean, our body craves the water to give us a sense of relaxation.
LESSONS FROM A PASSIONATE COLD WATER SWIMMER
Wild-swimming advocate, pilot and courage coach, south-coast UK based Elissa Davies told us about her love for cold water swimming:
“My first experience of cold water swimming was at Bournemouth beach on a chilly March morning in 2020 (lockdown was around the corner). I went along to a group breathwork and immersion session with my friend and I was bricking it! Having the energy of others helped me through those initial ‘WTF am I doing??’ moments and I was buzzing when I got out of the sea.
“There’s a lot of noise in my mind before I get into the water but as soon as I dip my shoulders under, that’s when everything goes quiet and calm washes over me. When you’re completely in the moment, embraced by the beautiful ocean, I think it’s the most magical feeling there is.”
“Cold water swimming has been so good for my mental wellbeing, particularly in the last year. If I ever feel anxious, low, or like I need a pause from life then I grab my swim kit, walk to the beach and run into the water. It’s the place I cry, shout, laugh – let out all of the emotions that get bottled up, and then sit on the sand feeling a load lighter than I did before….”
Check out the benefits of taking the cold-water plunge below.
Lowers high blood pressure
Cools down the body up to 2x faster after workout or summer heat.
Decreases soreness and inflammation especially for athletes by taking an ice bath after exercise.
Lower concentrations of homocysteine, high levels are linked to heart disease. Improved immunity against certain illnesses and infections. Cold-water swimmers have a 40% lower chance of contracting upper respiratory tract infectious diseases than warm swimmers.
There are many promising studies relating cold water being an antidepressant and relaxant. One paper on cold water swimming benefits and risks speaks of a 24-year-old woman with severe depression and anxiety treated with cold water swimming therapy no longer felt she needed medication.
Releases endorphins, also known as the happy hormone.
Increased alertness and energy levels.
Lower heart rate by up to 15%, this creates a sense of calmness for those with anxiety
Looking for inspiration?
Cool Swimming: A quick dip into cold water swimming and physical and mental well-being by Jonothan PD Buckley
The Wim Hof Method by Wim Hof
Catherine Joy White’s film Fifty Four Days
Wild Swimming Spots in the UK
Here are some of the top wild swimming spots in England to get your fix of cold-water swimming.
River Thames, Pangbourne, Berkshire.
Close to London only a 1hr 20 by transport or drive! Lovely countryside views despite being so close to the capital.
The Grantchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire.
The river is shallow so it is great for new swimmers who are just starting out. Also, home to The Orchard Tea Garden which poet Rupert Brooke spent time in.
Lake Windermere, Lake District
It’s recommended to go on a trail before taking a dip, it is well worth the trip with its stunning views. Also, one of many lakes in the district worth checking out!
Janet’s Foss, Malham, North Yorkshire
A cold waterfall and bathing pool, best to go in the winter though to avoid the swarm of visitors. It is also prone to drying up in the summer heatwaves.
If you’re eager to join a cold-water swimming community, these are a few of our favourites.
Outdoors Swimming Society is great as it has a news board on all things outdoor swimming, events and survival techniques for cold-water swimming.
The Cold Water Community on Instagram combines posts about some real cold-water swimmers, tips on swimming and their benefits. Although they are fairly new, they also have a Facebook group worth getting in touch with them for.
Cold Water Collective on Instagram is fantastic if you live around Boscombe near Bournemouth. They join together to swim for the days you just don’t want to swim alone, just shoot them a DM!
Open Water Swimming UK, a public Facebook group where members can ask questions and share tips on open and cold-water swimming.
Outdoor Swimmer, a magazine you can subscribe to that provides events, venues, tips on safe swimming and training! Outdoorswimmer.com