A new trend in wellness is a chilly one… open water swimming—are you brave enough to take the plunge?

Wild swimming, open-water swimming or sea swimming; whatever you prefer to call it has gained a lot of popularity over recent years, especially within the past year when access to indoor swimming has been limited. 

For some, taking a dip in a freezing cold body of water doesn’t sound like something that would be top of the to-do list, but there are a number of health benefits to dipping your toes in the water (as it were), and there have been increasing numbers of people giving it a go.

In fact, Mountain Warehouse reports a surge in the number of wetsuit sales published a report on wetsuit-related searches had doubled in the UK over the summer last year. So have people just gone mad, or is there actually evidence to support why you should crack out your snorkel and take to the seas?

What is open-water swimming?

What we mean here is outdoor swimming, in either a lake, a river, or the sea. It often takes place with little to no supervision, and it can be quite a chilly experience.

Besides giving you the opportunity to be at one with nature, get in some exercise, and (we’re told!) have some fun, outdoor swimming offers a number of the same health benefits as it’s smaller-scale counterpart, cold showers. If you aren’t quite ready to deep dive into the icy depths, then maybe that’s a less daunting place to start.

Before we dive in…

It’s important to preface this with a reminder that any activity that involves going out into the ‘wild’ carries some level of risk, and it’s no different with open-water swimming. Be sure to not go out alone, avoid waters with a high tide or current, wear the appropriate kit when temperatures are low, and seek out the appropriate health and safety advice before diving in.

If we proceed under the assumption that all procedures and protocols are being followed, then we can begin to take a look at the evidence for some health benefits. 

Health benefits of cold-water swimming

Similarly to cold showers, there’s evidence to suggest that the exposure to cold temperatures during open-water swimming can have positive effects. There have been several studies on the potential well being implications, which have suggested that open-water swimming could have a positive impact on the cardiovascular system, reducing related risk factors, lowering blood pressure and reducing pain perception. 

There have also been studies into the relationship between cold-water swimming and mental health, which have shown a number of benefits, including increased dopamine and endorphins, relief from depressive symptoms and higher resistance to stress.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, open-water swimming can also help to strengthen and improve your immune system. Cold-water swimmers are less likely to suffer from illness and infection, and if they do get sick it tends to be less severe. This may be due to increased stress hormones released in response to the cold temperatures preparing the body to be ready to fight off infection.

One particular study found that after four months of repeated open-water swimming, the swimmers felt more energetic, active and had reported a reduction in pain levels versus the control group.

All this research would suggest that there are a number of ways in which open-water swimming could positively influence your mental and physical wellbeing. 

Tips for beginners

As the weather starts to get a little warmer, it’s an appealing time to get started on this invigorating new hobby. If you want a slice of the action, then we encourage you to do so—safely! 

Do the necessary prep work before you take to the water. This means doing your research into locations you can access and exit easily, with little current and that aren’t too far from civilisation. Go with a buddy who can keep an eye out, tell people where you’re going beforehand, and have a phone handy to call if you need help. 

Equally as important in the prep work for open-water swimming is packing your kit and kaboodle. Invest in a wetsuit, wear a nice warm hat (if you’re not dunking your head under the surface, that is!), and maybe take some water shoes—even get some earplugs if you’re going all in! Also be sure to have a change of clothes for afterwards so you can warm up slowly. A hot drink in a flask is likely a welcome treat for when you come out too. 

As this trend has snowballed with popularity, you may find that there are other people in your local area already participating in open-water swimming, so you may well be able to find a group to get involved in. It might be worth posting on social media or researching local groups to see if you can find yourself a new hobby circle. 

And the very best tip? Go for it, get stuck in, and have fun!

Take the challenge



Cold Water Swimming—Benefits and Risks: A Narrative Review

Winter swimming improves general well-being

Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression

Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful

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