Cold Water Swimming

Sandbanks, Poole January 2021

You may have heard recently of cold water swimming or indeed you may already be enjoying the benefits of it. Cold water swimming and ‘wild swimming’ has been on the increase in recent years – particularly throughout 2020/2021 due to the closure of pools due to the COVID pandemic.

Does the thought of it make you go cold? Why do it? I hear you ask! Are you mad?!

Well yes, probably slightly mad but there are benefits!

I love the feeling as the cold water hits all your senses and it’s a great way of being present in body and mind. The power of the mind is amazing and anything is achievable if you put your mind to it!

We can talk ourselves out of doing things by telling ourselves how it will feel or what may happen before we’ve even done it! And this is true of cold water swimming, yes, it’s going to be cold but accepting this and then working with it will help.

My journey to water confidence

It may surprise you that I am not really a water person; I like my feet firmly planted on the earth! In fact, when I tuned 40 I took swimming lessons to help with my water confidence.

When I was at school l had swimming lessons as part of PE and learnt to swim then. In my early teens I was pulled from a swimming pool as I had got myself into difficulty and was unable to get my head above water, and after that my water confidence dwindled.

My husband, on the other hand, swims like a fish! He swam for a local club for many years.

It was important for me that our two sons learnt to swim and had water confidence, and so from babies had lessons. Both very confident swimmers and swam at club level too.

So when I was turning 40 I thought that I needed at least to be happy in the water, and be able to let the water go above my waist! So without my husband or our sons knowing, I took private swimming lessons!

Now I’m still not the best swimmer and tend to bob rather than swim, but I do enjoy being in the water – even getting my face in and snorkelling!

Benefits of cold water swimming

So why cold water swimming?! There are so many benefits, here are just some:

  • Improves circulation – cold water causes your blood to be directed to your organs to keep them warm, so as a result your heart workers harder, moving the blood around your body more efficiently
  • Can increase white blood cell count
  • After swimming, as you warmup and the blood returns to your extremities this can cause that lovely tingling afterglow!
  • Mood enhancing – cold water can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, happy hormones which helps to keep depression at bay.
  • As the endorphins are released this can help ease the feeling of pain
  • Weight loss – you burn more calories in cold water as your body works harder to keep your core temperature and you swim more vigorously against waves and currents.
  • It makes you feel happy, a sense of achievement and invigorated!
  • Connecting with your body, being truly present in it and its abilities to adapt to conditions

My love of cold water swimming really began after a trip to Norway in early 2019 where I had the opportunity to take a dip in the Arctic ocean. I had previously had the occasional cold water dip and was a regular partaker of cold showers, so when the opportunity arose I couldn’t resist!

On the day the air temperature was -2°C and the sea was a balmy 2°C! I loved it and since then I try and “swim” a couple of times a week.

Sometimes I go early in the morning, particularly in the summer when the beaches tend to be busier during the day, sometimes I double dip and go morning and early evening or other times it’s an afternoon affair.

Why I love cold water swimming

Dip in the Arctic Ocean March 2019
It’s official! Arctic Ocean Certificate

I love the anticipation before a swim! I usually keep a swimming costume in the car ready along with a towel, flips flops and slippers! I don’t wear a wetsuit as I like the feel of the water all over my body and to experience the sensations on my skin.

I love it when coming out from the water on a cold winter’s day and enjoy seeing my body pink all over and feel the tingling sensations!

You need to be present in your body and keep an awareness of how it feels so that you listen to your body and leave the sea when your body says enough, it’s time to get out.

  • That first cool sensation on your feet first as they connect with the water is followed by the water rising up the rest of your body then as your whole body is enveloped by the water. The feel of your body as the water gently draws you in and lifts you up with a swell and then gently releases you down again.
  • The exhilaration and joy of being at one with one of natures forces, always aware that it is an element beyond our control and at any time can change.
  • The awareness on my breath, taking a nice deep breath from my belly as I enter the water and keeping it deep whilst all the while in the water, helping to keep me steady from the cold and stopping that sharp intake of breath and shallow breathing that can occur when shocked. The sense of freedom, release and cleansing whilst bobbing about washing away any cares or worries. As my body tells me its time to leave and not to push the cold I reluctantly leave feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and happy!

Some useful tips:

Pick a time and day that suits you and fit in with your life

  • If you’re going on your own, make sure someone else knows where you are and what you are doing
  • Wear a hat, wetsuit, swimming gloves and swimming boots if needed
  • Dry quickly and as best as you can removing wet swimming things and wrapping yourself in towel and robe
  • Layer up with warm, comfortable clothing, sweat tops and bottoms or woolies!
  • Take a flask so that you can have a warm drink and something sweet to eat, flapjack is good
  • Take a hot water bottle with you
  • Go home and have a hot shower or bath
  • Feel fab!

The sea is generally at its coldest during February and March and warmest around September so perhaps start your swimming in warmer months so that your body then gets used to the changes in temperature and regular swimming will prepare you for the colder months.

I am no expert on this matter and only know from my own experience, please take care and look at websites such as The Outdoor Swimming Society for further tips and advice.

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