Monday mornings have never been my friend. Waving goodbye to the weekend and embracing chaos, stress and work has never been my thing. But recently, something changed and they are now my favourite part of the week. Why? Because for the past few weeks I’ve been swimming in a local river every Monday morning. And not only have my Mondays improved, but my entire week. Before telling me I must be mad, have a look at the amazing things open water swimming does for you.
I’ve also interspersed a few photos of the places I’ve swam in recent years. Because a picture really does speak a thousand words.
1. Open water swimming makes you happy
No, that’s not just me telling you how happy I am about my weird hobby, it’s a fact. Did you see a BBC documentary called The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs? The effect of cold water swimming on depression was featured in the documentary. It is also discussed in much more detail by Dr Mark Harper in this video.
Whilst Dr Harper is a keen open water swimmer himself and therefore somewhat biased, he has done a lot of research around the effect of swimming outdoors on mental health. And it’s not just about the euphoria factor or the sense of achievement. Dr Harper mentions the link between inflammation and depression, and the use of cold water as a drug-free way to treat depression due to the anti-inflammatory effect of the water.
2. Open water swimming makes you healthy
This one seems a little far fetched to me, but I have heard on numerous occasions that people who regularly swim outdoors get fewer illnesses. Colds are the classic example. In fact, Dr harper has written about the fact that there may be some truth in this.
Czech scientists investigated the effect of cold water swimming on the immune system. They found that getting into cold water shocks the body into producing more white blood cells and improves other immune functions. Getting used to the stress reaction of your body when it is submersed in cold water is also said to improve the way your body deals with other forms of stress.
3. It’s a great way to burn fat
It is said that wild swimming is great for weight loss. Which makes sense, because being in cold water means your body has to work hard to stay warm. To do so, it needs to burn calories or fat to provide energy. Whilst I can understand why this is the case, I can’t say I’m ever likely to lose weight from open water swimming.
By the time I’ve swam in the river for an hour and a half, I am absolutely ravenous. If I allowed myself, I could walk away from the river and devour breakfast, lunch and dinner without pausing for breath in between meals. This would be swiftly followed by an entire cake. I think my chances of losing weight are minimal, even in the coldest of temperatures.
4. May offer relief from injuries and pain
Swimming in general is great for injury recovery. You can exercise without putting unnecessary pressure on the injury. However, cold water swimming can offer further benefits. I’ve read a couple of times now about people who have found chronic pain to be reduced following open water swimming. Including this gentleman, who attributes his miraculous recovery from chronic pain to swimming in the sea.
5. Swimming in open water is the ultimate in relaxation
Ok, hear me out. I know that diving into a freezing cold river / lake / sea doesn’t sound relaxing. However, science has shown that exercising in a natural environment is better for your mental health than exercising in other environments. And there’s really no better way to be completely submersed in nature than wild swimming.
For me, it’s also the perfect way to switch off from everything else. Life is busy, as it is for all of us. I rarely do one thing at a time. But when I’m swimming in the river, all that changes. My friend and I spend most of our time swimming upstream. We don’t get far because of the strong current, but we potter around in beautiful surroundings.
No phones to distract us, no children to nag. Work can wait, someone else can take care of any problems that arise. Much like the feeling you get in a luxurious spa, but more natural and accessible. It costs nothing, it’s not indulgent and I don’t feel guilty for doing it. In fact, I’d recommend it to anyone.
How to swim safely in open water
If you are thinking of swimming in open water, head to the Open Water Swimming Society website for advice and to find organised swims. They have a great blog and can advise the best places to swim and how to do so safely. It’s particularly important never to swim alone, and only swim in water you know to be safe. For recommendations of where to swim, head to the Wild Swim map of the UK. I have also written a blog post with advice on open water swimming in the UK.