OPEN WATER SWIMMING
Enjoy the benefits of open water swimming.
22nd of September 2022
As summer begins to end, and we creep into autumn, it’s the perfect time to start transitioning into being a cold-water swimmer. It’s much easier to start now while the water temperature is around 17 degrees in England and then to just keep swimming as the temperatures start to drop even further! (It will by no means feel as drastic as just starting in the middle of winter!) Plus, start now and you’re more likely to keep on doing it, it will quickly become habitual!
I first got into open water swimming about 5 years ago having first tried it with some friends and am now a committed all year-round swimmer. Not going to lie, I still feel nervous before jumping in the cold water in the middle of winter but honestly there is no better feeling than the exhilaration and happiness you feel after- its just too addictive!
The benefits and why?
If you are looking for a reason to get into open-water swimming, look no further than the long list of benefits it provides. The health benefits of cold-water swimming date back as far as 400 BC (according to Hippocrates, cold water therapy relieved fatigue). Currently, as open-water swimming becomes more popular, the list of benefits is growing significantly:
POSITIVE MENTAL EFFECTS: Various studies have been done which reveal the positive mental effect it has on humans and goes as far as to claim it has even had antidepressant effects. One study on a 24-year-old woman with symptoms of severe depression was treated by a weekly program made up of cold-water swimming. This resulted in an immediate improvement in mood after each swim and a sustained reduction of her symptoms of depression. After one year of cold-water swimming, she was medication free.
This can be explained when you look at the science behind what is happening to the body when it is immersed in cold water: It starts as a cold-water shock, where your breathing gets faster, your heart rate increases and adrenaline courses through your body. This results in your blood pressure also increasing and glucose and fat are being released into your bloodstream. This is your ‘fight or flight’ mode your body provides an energy source should you suddenly need to use it. Cortisol is then released from your adrenal glands. As your body gets used to it, your heart rate will slow and go back to normal, and inflammation is reduced. While an increase of beta-endorphin hormones in the brain provides a sense of euphoria and acts as pain relief. A study carried out by scientists in Prague found that cold water immersion can boost dopamine levels by 530%!! Explaining the post-swim high many open water swimmers account for.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY: Depression is an incredibly complex disease, but one suggestion is that there is a significant link between chronic inflammation and depression. One study which covered more than 9000 patients found that taking anti-inflammatory medication alongside antidepressants reduced depression symptoms when compared to taking antidepressants alone. So, as such, if adapting to cold water can reduce our stress response and reduce inflammation, it can in some cases, also help with targeting depression.
Likewise, generally reducing inflammation is natural pain relief. Think of it as the same concept as putting an ice pack on an injury to reduce swelling. Research into helping chronic pain sufferers is more anecdotal than anything else but there are certainly a lot of stories suggesting its benefits. Likewise, generally reducing inflammation is natural pain relief. Think of it as the same concept as putting an ice pack on an injury to reduce swelling. Research into helping chronic pain sufferers is more anecdotal than anything else but there are certainly a lot of stories suggesting its benefits. Watch Emma’s story here, one of our very own swimmers, who battles from chronic joint problems leaving her in constant pain. Being in the water alleviates her pain and she’s at peace mentally.
STRESS RELIEVER: Water immersion can prime you to deal better with stress that might come your way: It comes down to something called ‘cross-adaption’, if your body knows how to adapt to one stressor, it is better equipped to adapt to another. This hypothesis encompasses not only physical but also psychological stress too- as they share a lot of the same common elements. I personally find that as soon as I’m in the water all my worries just slip away as I focus on my swimming and breathing. Plus, you meet so many lovely people swimming so having a chat in the water and some cake and tea after definitely helps put things in perspective! If you’re looking for a local swim group, we can highly recommend joining your local Mental Health Swims group.
COLD WATER SWIMMING COULD BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM: Although arguably there still needs to be more research done in this area, there is certainly growing evidence that it could make you more resistant to certain illnesses and infections. It invigorates the immune system and causes an increase in white blood cell count and antioxidants.^ This is that stress factor again coming into play- your body becomes more efficient at activating its defences.
Other studies are also looking into the benefits of cold water swimming protecting the brain from demenetia and alleviating symptoms from menstrual and menopause symptoms.
BUT WHAT IS THE SECRET TO BEING A COLD-WATER SWIMMER?
JUST KEEP DOING IT: The big secret really is quite simple, just keep doing it. It’s about acclimatising your body - going at least once a week (hopefully more!) and to progressively increase time spent in the cold water. The science ensures that your body will get used to it and will become more efficient at holding in the heat. CHANGE YOUR MINDSET- If you think about the water in a way that it is energising and good for you, the chances are that you will be able to swim in it. Your body is much more capable than your brain often thinks it is, ‘learn to love the cold!!’
WHERE TO GO FOR THOSE OPEN- WATER SWIMS:
Now hopefully you are hooked enough and need to know where to go??!!
Here are some articles that might inspire some open water swims around the London area.
OPEN WATER SWIMS AROUND LONDON:
PRECAUTIONS WHEN OPEN-WATER SWIMMING:
I know we have emphasised all those fun bits of open-water swimming but the truth is that unlike pool swimming there are a few risks that do need to be mentioned so that you can have the most fun while also being safe :)
1. Be seen and wear a brightly coloured swim cap (don’t worry we have you covered on this one!!)
2. Another way to make sure you are seen is to wear a tow float - added benefit is to act as a buoyancy aid as well (we’ve definitely used ours to have a little float and chat!)
3. Before you get in the water - do you know your location well? – make sure you can find a spot to get in and out of the water safely.
4. Acclimatise- when you go in the water, go in slowly and let your body can get use to it. To help you acclimatise you can splash cold water on your neck and face beforehand, and breathe out as you’re getting in.
5. Equally know your limits, cold water swimming is a whole lot different to swimming in heated pools- (you’re not meant to last that long!) so get out when you start to feel too cold (you should still be able to hold a conversation).
6. Take your wet clothes off straight away and get dressed quickly. No hot showers as this can make you feel faint – your body is still cooling after your swim via a process called afterdrop.
7. Hydrate and fuel yourself - your body will be dehydrated after the stress so make sure to bring a hot drink for after and a sugary snack in case your blood sugar has dropped.
At the end of the day open water swimming is like all swimming for us, it fosters a sense of community, physically and mentally we are better off for it and by creating a routine challenge we are rewarded with a sense of achievement that we didn’t have before. WE LOVE ALL SWIMMING BUT SOMETIMES ITS QUITE EXCITING TO PUSH YOURSELF TO TEST OUT NEW WAYS OF EXPERIANCING THE SPORT YOU LOVE!