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The Benefits of Sea Swimming
The popularity of sea swimming has grown rapidly over the last few years. Lockdowns and swimming pool closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that many turned to wild swimming to help their mental health and make the most of being able to get outside. Many of those who sea swim have found it transformative and enthuse about the benefits to their mental and physical health, and it is a trend that is continuing to grow.
Physical Health Benefits
There are numerous physical health benefits to swimming. It’s well known that swimming is good for you and a great way of keeping fit. Swimming alleviates stress put on bones and muscles and provides a full-body workout, using all the muscles in your body whether you’re doing breaststroke or front crawl. It’s also a great cardiovascular workout, swimming helps to lower risk of diseases too.
Swimming outdoors provides further health benefits that can’t be found in a pool. These benefits include increased immunity, bringing down cholesterol and blood pressure, and increased metabolism, as well as better blood flow and circulation. Regular cold water swimming is also proven to lower inflammation. The cold allows muscles to recover quickly - just like taking a regular ice bath!
Plus, cold water swimming helps to improve sleep, by increasing stimulation of the vagus nerve, which regulates organ functions, and relaxes you. Saltwater is also incredibly good for your skin. The cold helps to improve your circulation and flush toxins out of your system.
Mental Well-Being and Cold Water Therapy
Regular sea swimmers have reported positive psychological benefits of cold water swimming. Swimming is already known to improve our psychological wellbeing, but swimming outside in cold water has a number of additional benefits.
Research suggests that cold water swimming can improve stress response as well as help people gain better perspective about themselves and their world. Immersion in cold water triggers the body’s natural stress response and reducing this response can have a positive impact on the way that we deal with life’s everyday challenges. Swimming can also strengthen our minds, allowing us to develop mental resilience and become braver. Immersing ourselves in cold water can push us out of our comfort zones, helping to build confidence, which is beneficial out of the water and in.
Many swimmers have reported that sea swimming can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Cold water immersion increases our dopamine response by 530%, releasing hormones that promote happy and positive feelings. While not a complete cure to mental health issues, swimming helps to promote these positive feelings and is an effective therapy for many.
Chill Therapy CIC run cold water swim sessions around the UK, designed to help people manage anxiety and depression. Locally, Angela Collins of Salty Sea Swims runs free swimming sessions. While the sessions are not officially prescribed yet, the non-profit is now working with the NHS to provide these sessions to people who need it. They are collating research data to provide to the NHS with the hope that one day cold water therapy can become officially prescribed to patients who need it.
Community and Connection
Sea swimming allows you to connect with others, nurture your social side, engage with nature, and discover your sense of self.
Swimmers are encouraged to swim with others, partly for safety, but also because it can be a more enjoyable and beneficial experience. There are plenty of swimming groups that exist and the extra encouragement to get in the water can help you make it a habit. Even if you swim alone, it can still be a social occasion, whether you’re chatting to other swimmers in the water or on the beach while you warm up with a flask of tea. Building strong relationships with others helps to combat loneliness, which is important for our well-being and happiness.
Swimming outdoors is also accessible. Many swimming locations are easy to reach, and without need for specialist kit, swimming can be accessed by those who may find that other sports or activities are too costly or difficult to get involved with. Nor do you have to be able to swim far, simply getting into the water is an act of therapy and will have numerous benefits to your wellbeing.
As well as connecting with others, swimming allows reconnection with our inner self. Blue Mind Theory, writes Wallace J. Nicholls, is “the mildly meditative state we fall into when near, in, on or under water” and spending time in water helps us to achieve this mindful happiness. Swimming requires us to be present, embrace simplicity, and focus on breathing. While doing this, we experience a connection between body and mind. It’s a great escape from the pressures of a busy, modern world and a way to switch off from screens and the demands of everyday life.
Connecting with nature is another huge benefit of outdoor swimming. Health professionals are beginning to “prescribe” spending time outdoors to combat mild to moderate depression and other mental health conditions, and getting into the water can be an effective way of reconnecting with nature and our environment. In a modern world where we are focused on artificial stimuli, it’s important to interact with nature and re-develop a connection to the world around us.
In their 2021 trend report, Outdoor Swimmer highlighted that wild swimming makes us more aware of environmental problems and more likely to engage in activities such as beach cleaning, ocean awareness, and water pollution issues. This makes us more caring and thoughtful, and grounds us in our environment, important qualities to feeling at peace and one with your body and mind.
All in all, there are numerous reasons why sea swimming has become so popular. With plenty of reports and stories from swimmers who highlight positive impacts, it’s clear that sea swimming really can be good for your mind as well as your body and general wellbeing.
Why not join a local swim group or get your friends down to the beach for a dip?
We look forward to seeing you in the water!