Dive in: Why you need to embrace wild swimming this summer
Rosie Cook, founder of Deakin & Blue, shares with us why the benefits of wild swimming cover the body, mind and soul.
Forget the local leisure centre and let's dive in.
Mon 10 Jun 2019
I first got into wild swimming about five years ago when a friend invited me to Hampstead Ponds for the afternoon. Naively, I assumed “The Ponds” was a quaint name for a water-side café, and that we would be spending the afternoon sitting, in the dry, overlooking a few ducks. So it was a surprise when I realised she intended for us to get into the ponds ourselves for a “wild swim”.
What is a "wild swim"? It's simply swimming in the great outdoors, from lakes and rivers to the sea.
Fast forward five years and I’m a fully converted lover of (and swimmer in) lakes, rivers, the sea and yes, even ponds. From Camber Sands on the South Coast to Portobello Beach in Edinburgh I have become that person who keeps a swimsuit in my bag – just in case any opportunity arises.
And it turns out, I’m not alone.
Recent research shows that more than four million people in the UK are dipping in lakes, rivers and the sea on a monthly basis. And, if my social media accounts are anything to go by, (the Outdoor Swimming Society on Facebook gathers more than 20,000 individuals who post every day about their daily dips into ponds and all sorts), this activity is only on the rise.
So why are so many people leaping into their cossies and into the nearest outdoor waterspot?
Is it for the brilliant physical benefits that come with swimming, realised anew in beautiful settings beyond the local leisure centre pool? Is it because of the various mental health benefits that cold water swimmers advocate? Or is it about playing in and reconnecting with nature?
Let’s leap into the cold water and take a look.
Why you should go wild swimming this summer
1. It's a brilliant work out
Swimming has always been a brilliant form of exercise, using every muscle in the body without putting strain or pressure on any joints – so it’s perfect for a pregnant woman, someone recovering from injury or someone looking to build a complementary workout into an existing exercise routine.
Wild swimming opens swimming up further – removing the pressure to go up and down chlorinated lengths until you get bored and instead inviting enthusiasts to simply dip or enjoy a bit of gentle head-up breast-stroke and take in the view and the surroundings.
The physical benefits are still there (although clearly 5km butterfly is a little more of a workout than playing with the ducks) as your core is constantly engaged whilst you keep afloat and there are lots more benefits exclusively associated with cold water swimming including an improved immune system and supercharging your metabolism.
2. There's a link between cold water swimming and mental health
I talk regularly about my weekly swims being the only time I’m truly away from my phone and inbox, so when I recently asked over 200 Deakin and Blue customers about why they swim, I wasn’t surprised that more than 90% say it benefits their mental health.
Anecdotally, outdoor swimmers have, for a long time, advocated the benefits of a cold water swim for managing the symptoms of depression and new research is beginning to prove this.
The theory goes that immersion in cold water releases a stress response (increased heart rate, breathing and blood pressure). Over time, the more we expose ourselves to the cold water the more we get used to managing the stress response and this, in turn, helps us manage the symptoms of stress and anxiety more generally.
For my part, I’ve never gotten out of the water feeling less refreshed and invigorated, than I did getting in.
3. Explore and connect with nature
For those of us who grew up swimming in a local leisure centre pool, the opportunity to take this activity into the wild – into the beautiful lakes, ponds, waterfalls and rivers that the UK boasts, is pretty magical.
Say goodbye to the smell of chlorine, the lane ropes and the suspicious bits of fluff floating at the bottom of the pool, instead when we swim outside we find ourselves up close and personal with the natural world – from the ducks pottering around the pond to the birds flying overhead, with all the smells and the sounds of being outside surrounding us.
Outdoor swims can feel like mini adventures, whether you’re clambering over rocks to get into a river or tiptoeing quickly across cold sand to get into the sea. There’s something exhilarating about building these little escapes into the every day: going for a wild swim doesn’t have to involve climbing a mountain or traipsing to the coast.
I often get the Tube to Hampstead Ponds – swapping busy London-life for a moment or two of calm and quiet in the middle of my day, and I’m sure the contrast provides as much of the fun as the dip itself.
Where to wild swim in the UK
The Outdoor Swimming Society is a brilliant source of advice if you’re new to wild swimming. Their Facebook community also offers lots of advice as well as local groups you can join to ensure you swim outdoors safely. And if you’re looking for a cossie for your next dip, do check out Deakin and Blue.