OK, so the idea of swimming in cold, outdoor water may sound less than appealing at first, particularly if you’re used to heated indoor pools, but more of us are jumping in.
Sport England reported in 2018 that 7.5m of us are doing so – it’s not as crazy as it might seem and your body and mind will reward you for dipping a toe in open water.
First up, switching your lengths from the lanes of the swimming pool to the river could result in a leaner you, much more quickly. That’s because when you swim outside in cold water your body has to use far more calories to keep you warm.
British seawater rarely rises above 20°C while freshwater rivers and lakes tend to be even cooler. You’ll benefit from better circulation. Plunging into cold water represents an extreme change in body temperature, so your heart pumps more blood to your organs.
People are often surprised that, after the initial shock of a drop in temperature, they no longer feel cold as their body quickly adjusts. As a rule of thumb, it’s advisable to stay in the water for only as many minutes as the water’s number of °C. Neoprene boots and gloves can be useful to protect your extremities.
Scientists report that connecting with nature for 120 minutes a week, which can be broken into daily bites, boosts your wellbeing. You’ll also come away from that wild-water dip with increased dopamine levels and, as it is otherwise known as the ‘pleasure’ hormone, the rest of your day is more likely to go swimmingly. Combined with a fresh, post-swim juice, blend or smoothie to boost energy levels, what better way to pep up your wellbeing routine?
Start your cold water swimming gently and make it a regular part of your workout
- Summer is a great time to start your outdoor swimming practice, when water temperatures are at their warmest.
- The first couple of minutes after you immerse your body are the most challenging, so start slowly and keep your head above water.
- Within a few minutes your skin will reach the same temperature as the water and you’ll feel warmer.
- Swim with a friend to ensure you are both safe and comfortable at all times.
Check out these amazing wild-water swimmers from around the globe.
- Adam ‘Ocean’ Walker – Motivational speaker and author of Man vs Ocean, Adam Walker is the first British swimmer to complete the Oceans Seven, aka the toughest channel swims in the world.
- Anna-Kaisa Tellervo Maukonen – In 2012, ‘Telly’ became the first Finnish woman to cross the English Channel. She has since embraced her love of the open water by becoming an inspirational swimming teacher, coaching students all over the world.
- Hania Bakuniak – Cold-water swimming isn’t quite challenging enough for some. In 2018, Poland’s Hania, then the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, broke the record for a 1km swim in ice water.
As an island nation with around 40,000 lakes, there are plenty of places to try outdoor swimming. Check out the Outdoor Swimming Society (outdoorswimmingsociety.com) for local spots and clubs. Here are a few epic places to take a dip
- River Mole, Surrey – Just half an hour from the city of London, the River Mole is a tranquil oasis that’s also one of England’s most bio-diverse rivers.
- Dock 9, Salford Quays – A firm favourite with elite swimmers, Greater Manchester’s Dock 9 isn’t just scenic, it’s also perfect for beginners, offering coached outdoor swim sessions and varying course lengths.
- Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye – Crystal clear and utterly magical, swimming under the famous archway and into the waterfall is an unforgettable experience.