Wellness made simple: A guide to wild swimming
-Sep 7, Caroline Blight , Health -
You have likely heard about the health benefits of cold showers, but what about trying a cold swim?
Certainly ‘wild swimming’ or swimming in natural waters like lakes, rivers and the sea, instead of a pool, is on the rise. There are books dedicated to the most idyllic spots and local groups to meet likeminded people. But if you feel like you want to try wild swimming where do you start?
How does wild swimming differ from pool swimming?
There are swimming pools all over the world so why do fans choose to travel to areas around the world to swim? “Being around nature, eye level with the earth and paying attention to what is around you is almost meditative,” explains Ella Foote from The Outdoor Swimming Society. “Being immersed into the natural environment, swimming journeys, the smells, tastes, sights and sounds. It is a feast for the senses. Cool water, no chemicals!” Who needs swimming lanes and the restrictions of sessions when you have an entire lake to yourself?
Are you really allowed to swim anywhere?
“Pretty much,” says Ella. “Apart from private lakes and parts of the river that pass through private land. Avoid working quarries and reservoirs.” The law about swimming outdoors is often unclear but as long as you are not trespassing then open, public spaces shouldn’t be a problem. In Scotland, swimmers have the right to swim freely in open spaces.
Is wild swimming dangerous?
It certainly can be if you choose an unsafe place to swim. Firstly, you must always make sure you can get in and out of the water easily and safely. To begin with make sure you swim alongside the bank rather than across large expanses of water as chiller water is more exhausting than swimming in a heated pool. And jumping into very cold water can cause an uncontrollable gasp which means water enters your lungs and you could drown. Following the gasp reflex, you might start to breathe very quickly or hyperventilate for up to two minutes. Make sure you get in slowly and ensure your breathing is under control before you start to swim.
Do your own risk assessment before getting in and be honest about your level of swimming, if anything, work on the basis you are a worse swimmer than you really are. Open water swimming is harder than pool swimming and you need to be able to cope with possible changes in conditions, currents and weather changes.
If you are trying sea swimming at first, stick to beaches with lifeguards and obey the flags. As a general rule, it’s safer to swim on an incoming tide so you won’t be pulled out to sea. If you are pulled out in a rip don’t swim against it, go with the flow and try and just stay afloat. Many rips will return you to the shore but shout for help and raise one hand to raise the alarm.
How do I get started?
Before you enter wild waters, you should be confident in your swimming abilities. Perhaps start off at your local pool perfecting your chosen stroke and maybe think about taking a couple of lessons. “When you are starting out find lakes, lidos and beaches that offer lifeguard support,” suggests Ella. “If you are visiting a swimming spot that is more wild, ensure you know how you will exit as well as enter the water. Check for currents, tides, boat traffic and hazards. If you are unsure, don’t get in.” It’s a good idea to swim with others when you are starting out as you will learn a lot but also have support if you get into any trouble. Try to find swimmers who like to swim like you do, with a similar ability and ambition, “It is no-good joining a group of endurance swimmers if you just fancy a dip,” adds Ella.
You don’t need any specific kit either. If you plan to swim in the winter you might prefer a wetsuit, “Gloves and booties can offer extra warmth and also protection to the soles of your feet. Wear a good quality, bright swimming hat – it will keep you warm and visible in the water.”
What are the health benefits of wild swimming?
If you do decide to give wild swimming a go then your health will thank you!
Swimming is a fabulous sport for all and a great option for anyone who might be injured and unable to go on with their initial sporting passion. It’s low impact but an amazing all body work out. “Concentrating on your breathing and using the lungs well also helps with circulation and blood flow,” says Ella. “Cool water can really get your nerve endings going, sending blood rushing to all your organs to keep you alive, which feels exhilarating when done safely and mindfully. I often get to the riverbank in a fug and leave it feeling more myself. I never regret a swim.”
Taking exercise in the great outdoors is also good for mind as well as body. Any activity outdoors does wonders for mental health. Fresh air, sunlight, general movement is all good for the brain and feeling good. It’s also an activity you can gain a real sense of achievement from whether you decide to perfect a certain stroke or improve your time.
If you’re focusing on wellness at the moment, consider including a quality food supplement like Lumity’s into your regime. Along with a balanced diet and exercise routine you will look and feel your best, all day, every day.