Open water swimming – one way to increase mental and physical fitness

Looking for a new hobby and challenge for the summer holidays? Could wild swimming be for you?

Open-water swimming can help improve your mood and sense of wellbeing and is often free. You do need to be a confident swimmer and in reasonable health.

As a health trainer, I encourage my clients to create a daily habit of exercising, which builds strength, stamina and confidence, it will also support weight loss if you need to drop a few pounds. Walking is the obvious starter for ten, but swimming is equally beneficial for both cardio-vascular and mental health, and if you have a local source of open water, free. I’m lucky in Cambridge, because we have a swimming club by the River Cam, which has step access, and I can swim with other people. The club also works to keep everyone safe. We also have a lido, operated by Better Health, the reasonably priced entrance fee, covers the costs of the hot showers, lifeguard service and changing rooms.

As a wild-swimmer myself, I love that transition from feeling reluctant to enter the chilled water to feeling elated and energized as I get used to the temperature, and enjoy sharing the river with other swimmers, ducks and occasionally paddle-boarders. I take my time, looking up at the trees, savouring the peace and beauty of surrounding nature. Once dried and warmed up with a flask of tea, I feel an enormous sense of wellbeing.

While there are some risks involved, and it is certainly not for everyone, research suggests there are many benefits to making open swimming a habit, providing health and safety guidance is followed. Benefits include:

  • Psychological benefits (sense of achievement, social inclusion)
  • Green-blue therapy – being in open spaces (green) or open water (blue)
  • Improved immune system function
  • Less upper-respiratory tract infections

Doctors don’t know why open swimming brings such benefits, but they believe that it could be one of two reasons. The first, that by getting into cold water the body is put under stress and learns to adapt through repetition. And the second is that cold water has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

When interviewed by the BBC, Consultant Anaesthetist Dr Mark Harper said, ‘You’re getting all the benefits of an effective treatment for mental health, and it costs the NHS next to nothing.’

If you decide to try wild swimming remember:

1.Be safe – make sure you can enter and exit the water easily.

2.Make sure you are allowed to swim.

3. Wear the right kit

4. Ideally, swim with someone else. If you don’t have a friend who’s brave enough, stick to places where there will be other people around like surfers or dog walkers.

5. Get used to the cold gradually. As the temperature drops, enter the water slowly.

6. Know your limits – spend less time in the water as the temperature drops.

7. Warm up slowly. Don’t take a hot shower. Hot drink and snuggly clothes are best!

If you think you’re ready to make some changes to how you live your life, with a view to improving your health and wellbeing, whether that’s losing weight, getting fitter, stopping smoking, or drinking less we can help. Give us a call or contact us

David Lynch – Health Trainer

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