Everything You Need To Know About Open Air Swimming

We admit that wading into icy water is a shock to the system, but outdoor swimming has some impressive health benefits. Not only does wild swimming provide an opportunity to get outside and enjoy some fresh air, but it can also have a hugely positive impact on our health.

During the Covid lockdowns, open water swimming saw a surge in popularity, with many people across the UK partaking in an exhilarating outdoor swim on a daily or weekly basis while pools were closed. Some go out alone into lakes, seas, and ponds, while others go as part of a club or local community, citing various reasons why they enjoy diving into open water come rain, sun, or even snow.

In a report published by Outdoor Swimmer, we are able to see that mainstream media outlets showed a 53% increase in articles about outdoor swimming, a 49% increase in posts about wild swimming, and a 100% increase in stories about winter swimming!

A big part of this media coverage was related to another important 2020 theme: the value of outdoor swimming correlation to people’s health and well-being. Outdoor swimming was noted as being very important and essential to 81% of the survey respondents’ well-being, while 75% said the same about their mental health.

Man swimming in river

Cold-water therapy is not a new concept; its origins can be traced back to Ancient Greece and the principles of thermal medicine, in which water was used at various temperatures to relieve muscle fatigue and other health issues. So what exactly are the benefits of open water swimming on our mind and body?

1) Mood Booster:

Swimming in cold water releases endorphins. This chemical is produced by the brain to make us feel good during activities. This feeling of euphoria is largely due to the release of hormones that assist the body in responding to stress caused by the shock of cold water, preparing the body for ‘fight-or-flight’ reactions. Swimming is also a form of exercise, and exercise has been shown in multiple studies to help with depression. A study conducted in Prague discovered that cold-water immersion can increase dopamine (also known as the “happy hormone”) levels by 530%.

2) Increases Your Metabolism:

The effects of cold water on the immune system have been extensively researched over the years. As the body is forced to react to changing conditions, the chilly water helps to boost your body’s white blood cell count and with that you will see an improvement in its ability to activate its defences over time.

3) Great Way Of Socialising And Making Friends:

One of the most appealing aspects of cold-water swimming is the sense of community it fosters, with other swimmers eager to share their experiences. Outdoor swimmers have a strong sense of community and camaraderie, nothing brings people together more than facing a challenge and sharing the experience as a group.

Swimming in open water also promotes a sense of self-acceptance and body confidence. You’ll be surrounded by people of all ages and sizes, which can lead to a strong feeling of belonging.

4) Reduced Pain And Inflammation:

It’s no secret that cold temperatures can be used to provide natural pain relief, with an ice pack being the first port of call for reducing swelling—and this is not without its scientific support. In a 2016 study, a group of Hong Kong researchers discovered that cold-water immersion after exercise can reduce inflammation and pain for up to 24 hours after the workout.

Many regular swimmers support outdoor swimming by helping with their chronic pain, however this is subjective to every person.

5) Effective With Ecotherapy:

We are well aware of the benefits of nature and how powerful it can be in helping us to escape the stresses of everyday life. Wild swimming provides some idyllic landscapes, whether you want to reap the benefits of swimming in the sea or enjoy the serenity of a still lake.

Take a moment to observe the wild and natural habitat around you in between laps, or while warming up if it was a faster plunge, and enjoy a moment of mindfulness. Slowing down and connecting with nature is an effective way to reduce stress, and it has also been mentioned in some case studies as a way to alleviate depression symptoms and help with anxiety attacks.

Group of friends in the ocean

There are numerous locations in the UK where open water swimming is permitted, including lakes, rivers, the sea, and ponds. However, before you begin, make sure that the water is not located on private property or dangerous.

If you’re swimming in a river, keep in mind that boats may be using it, and if you’re swimming at a beach, try to go to one with lifeguards and check the tides and weather before you go.

Swimming in a Lido is an outdoor swimming option strongly advocated for by the Lido Ladies, Nicola Foster and Jessica Walker. “Our mission is to encourage everyone, no matter what age, size or ability, to enjoy a swim for both physical and mental well being.”

Plymouth Lido

Some safety considerations you may want to stick to is starting off slow. You don’t want to just jump off the deep-end… Literally. Needless to say, you ought to be sensible. Swimming in cold water can be dangerous, causing shock (especially if you’re not acclimatised) and hypothermia. Before attempting a swim, we suggest speaking with a lifeguard at your local lido, ponds, or beach, and complete a cold-water induction session.

Try to seek out a local group or guide when starting out, look here for more information. The Outdoor Swimming Society is another great guide for groups in your local area and has an extensive list of swim groups across the UK. When you’re ready to take the plunge, keep these things in mind:

1) Acclimatise:

It’s easier to begin your swimming career in the summer months, when the water is warmer, and gradually build up a tolerance. Entering icy water below 10°C can cause a shock response, rapid breathing, numbness and pain in the hands and feet. You could also take cold showers or baths as a part of your daily routine.

2) Warm up right away:

It is critical to warm up right away and stay warm for 20-30 minutes after exiting the water. After your swim, remove all cold and wet clothing, wrap up in insulated layers, and sip on a hot drink.

3) Understand your limitations:

Reduce the amount of time you spend in the water as the temperature drops. Swimmers often only swim for one or two minutes at a time in the winter. The general rule is that you can spend one minute in the water for every degree of water temperature—obviously, you must also listen to your body.

4) Concentrate on your breathing:

As the temperature drops, your breathing may become faster and shallower, so it’s important to have some calming breathing techniques in mind to help you relax. The Wim Hof breathing technique, which involves controlled breathwork to relax your mind and body, could be beneficial to learn.

5) Wear appropriate protection:

Wear a swimming hat or two to help keep your body warm (many swimmers often wear woolly hats or earmuffs). You can also wear neoprene gloves, boots, a balaclava, or a high-quality wetsuit if you prefer.

If you think swimming outdoors could be your next wellness habit, then look no further for sustainable swimwear options to get you started:

Seasoon – Capri Reversible Swimsuit: 

This beautiful reversible swimsuit is produced in Italy by professional seamstresses from quick-drying, environmentally friendly, recycled plastic material. The gold and white colours of this sustainable one-piece can be worn on either side, offering two wardrobe possibilities. One size fits all, a custom fit is created with adjustable sides and back ties.

It also comes in a black and red colour variation.

Mangata London – Recycled Swim Shorts:

A must-have for your next dip, these mint green ethical men’s swim shorts sport a white and gold drawstrings and a pineapple repetition pattern. Vegan-friendly, these swimming trunks are manufactured from recycled plastic bottles, which means they won’t end up in landfills and, more crucially, won’t end up in our seas.

Me and Maeve Grace – Michelle Hand-Painted Econyl Swimsuit: 

This swimsuit is made with a luxurious and sustainable fabric that feels  smooth and silky on the skin. It’s designed with a high cut that elongates your legs to make you feel comfortable and confident. The Michelle Swimsuit was purposefully designed with new mothers in mind, including adjustable straps for easy access while breastfeeding.

The soft Italian fabric is also UPF50+, which protects your skin.