Wild swimming has become something of a talking point in recent years, as more and more people appreciate the mind and body benefits of taking a dip outdoors.
© Galyna Andrushko / Adobe Stock
But, in actual fact, wild swimming has been a popular pastime for bathers for many years. Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin were believed to be fans, while Lord Byron was known to take a dip in Venice’s Grand Union Canal.
Whether you choose to take a bracing dip in your local outdoor lido, bathing pond or lake, or the ocean, there are ample benefits to be gained from this experience.
When you’re immersed in the cold water outdoors, it’s impossible to focus on anything else but the present. Casting any worries aside, and concentrating entirely on your next swim stroke or approaching wave, wild swimming makes for a top-notch form of mindfulness activity.
Reduction of stress, anxiety and depression
Countless studies have extolled the virtues of wild swimming for mental health and wellbeing. One study demonstrated how wild bathers showed a reduction in uric acid, which makes the body better at handling stress. The activity also lowers cortisol, the stress hormone, and slashes blood pressure and heart rate, producing feelings of calm. Another study found that participants who immersed themselves in cold water experienced an increase in dopamine levels, the hormone associated with pleasure and pain reduction, by 530%.
Improved circulation and pain reduction
While plunging into cold water outdoors might cause you to wince initially, once you get moving, the experience is incredibly invigorating. The cold water encourages blood to flow throughout the body, boosting the circulatory system. This can reduce inflammation in the body, helping to promote healing and pain reduction. One study even found that wild bathers who immersed themselves in cold water after running or cycling experienced a reduction of onset delayed muscle soreness.
Immune system boost
Wild swimming has been shown to increase antioxidants in the body, especially glutathione. Higher levels of antioxidants boost the immune system, encouraging the body to fight off diseases. Researchers also claim that cold water swimmers have higher levels of white blood cells, which are known for combating infections.
Swimming is a fantastic, all-round exercise if you’re looking to get fit and lose weight, but wild swimming adds an even greater dimension to your body toning goals. The cold water forces your body to use more heat to stay warm, which requires an increased level of energy. The body burns fat as an energy source, which gets your metabolism into gear helping to shift the weight. Experts reckon you can burn 200 calories more per hour from wild swimming compared to using an indoor pool.
There’s nothing more invigorating than a cold water dip that is sure to send feel-good hormones soaring. Being surrounded by nature in the great outdoors is much more satisfying and liberating than swimming in an indoor pool at your local gym, with only four walls to look at. The sense of achievement and the high wild swimming brings will leave you feeling calm and energised for the day ahead.
There are increasing numbers of wild swimming clubs and groups where participants take to the waters outside together. This offers a great way to bond and form new friendships, but being with others when you swim is also beneficial from a safety point of view.