The popularity of swimming in the open air in lakes, rivers and seas has been on the increase in recent years, and in 2020, with the closure of swimming pools and leisure centres, a tidal surge of people have got involved in the pastime.
As more people took to the water, word spread that there’s more to outdoor, wild swimming than simply exercise. It has huge benefits for physical health, mental well-being, and, put simply, it makes you feel great!
Literally immersing yourself in nature and natural surroundings can bring a sense of peace and perspective that is hard to grasp in the milieu of daily life. And going swimming with friends and like-minded people promotes friendship and happiness, not to mention that the cold water releases dopamine (a happy hormone), so when you try cold water swimming expect shrieks of laughter and gales of giggles!
The cold water is great for your skin (particularly salt water which provides magnesium, calcium and potassium and is also a mild antiseptic), improves circulation, increases metabolism, boosts the immune system and decreases inflammation. In addition, the psychological benefits include higher self-esteem, mindfulness as you are forced to focus on the present, and then there’s the post-swim high: a feeling of achievement and euphoria.
There is also evidence to suggest that swimming in cold water increases tolerance to stress. On entering the water a stress reaction is triggered in the body, but as you adjust to the temperature the stress reaction recedes. Therefore over time, by repeatedly going into cold water, swimmers become used to their body’s reaction and the stress reaction itself becomes less severe. This then has a knock on effect to other stressful situations, meaning that your reaction to stressful events is reduced.
There are many chill swimmer groups and wild swimming communities; search online or on social media for other wild swimmers local to you. Always go with a friend, or other members of the group, so that you can look out for each other. Ease yourself in gently to allow your body time to acclimatise, and when you feel you’ve had enough, get out again - you don’t want to risk getting so cold that it’s difficult to warm up again afterwards.
If you will be swimming in the sea make sure you know about the tides and rips, and if you are at all unsure about the safety then be prepared to change your dipping plans and go somewhere else (a tidal pool, lake or river) or wait for a calmer day. If there is RNLI cover at a local beach then choose that one.
Know how you’re going to get out of the water before you get in, and if swimming in the sea, swim parallel to the shore so that you are always close to land in case you get too cold and need to get out quickly. Wetsuit gloves and boots for the swim can provide an extra layer of warmth for your extremities, and also protect feet from rocks and weaver fish, and a tow float is a good safety aid to take with you, bright ones will also help you to be seen in the water.
Dry robes are great to slip straight on after a swim to warm you up while also allowing room to discreetly change out of wet things! Take a towel, loose warm layers to dress into, cosy socks and boots, and a hat (which can even be worn into the water if you don’t plan on dunking your head under!). A hot drink and even a hot water bottle slipped under your jumper can be wonderfully warming after a wild swim, and once you get home luxuriate in a warm shower or bath before dressing in cosy clothes again.
Where To Go
Perranporth beach is sandy underfoot and if the sea is too rough, Chapel Rock tidal pool is a great alternative.
Portreath beach also has a beautiful beach and a small pool, accessible at low tide.
Bude Sea Pool is a fabulous semi-natural beachside structure, really large at approximately 91m long and 45m wide.
Porthcurnow beach on Cornwall’s south coast has stunning white sand and clear blue waters.
The Jubilee Pool at Penzance is the UK’s largest art deco sea water lido!
Goldiggins Quarry, Bodmin Moor provides a wide, deep quarry of spring water, and can be reached only by a walk across the moor.