Dr Julia Wolf
21st March 2022
Why would anyone voluntarily jump into a freezing lake? Cold water swimming may seem like madness but newspapers, social media platforms and TV programmes talk of a boom in this chilly hobby. Ask any cold water swimmer and they will no doubt tell you about the immense benefits swimming has brought to their physical, emotional and mental health.
“During the last 17 years, I have been bedbound for two and housebound for the majority with severe M.E. and cognitive issues. Two years ago I took up cold water swimming in the sea. Thus far, my energy levels have increased and my cognition has improved. I can now swim four times a week, walk daily and cycle twice a month!” Carole
We have known for a long time that swimming is a fantastic activity for your whole body. It tones your muscles, makes you stronger and increases your heart rate without causing the stress associated with other traditional cardio workouts. It can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, and helps regulate blood sugars, which can protect against diabetes and obesity. Swimming also helps your lungs work better and is especially useful for people with asthma or COPD. Because the water enables you to carry most of your weight, swimming is an excellent activity for your joints. It can help with weight loss without putting pressure on your knees and hips.
Cold water swimming boosts happiness hormones called endorphins, which explains the rush of joy many cold water enthusiasts experience. By staying in the cold water for longer, your body can also change how it deals with chronic stress and can reduce inflammation and pain. Overcoming the initial shock of the cold water allows swimmers to work on their mental resilience and has even been shown to reduce depression and anxiety. Wild swimming, in the sea, rivers or lakes, also brings you closer to nature and allows you to immerse yourself in beautiful surroundings – a meditative process that has been shown to improve quality of life.
Swimming is an ideal activity for people of all ages and anyone, regardless of their fitness level, can take part. However, it is essential to stay safe when swimming, so don’t go in the water on your own and make sure you swim within your capabilities. The best way to do that is to join a swimming club – and with the recent rise in the popularity of cold water swimming, many clubs and local pools have new members, just like you.