How wild swimming can benefit mental health

Taking the plunge!

Statistics show that since Covid seriously interrupted and changed our lives, people are spending much more time outside in nature. The past year has inspired lots of people to take up a new outdoor activity, here in Cornwall, sea swimming has just bloomed. We have spoken to some sea swimming fans and they tell us that it really helps their mental health and wellbeing.

The first study to examine the effectiveness of cold water swimming in the fight against depression was led by television doctor Chris van Tulleken, of University College London, and Professor Mike Tipton and Dr Heather Massey, two University of Portsmouth scientists. And the first case report on cold water swimming published in British Medical Journal case Reports shows that it may be an effective treatment for depression.

Lydia Paleschi from Wild Swimming Cornwall sent us this blog:

How wild swimming can benefit mental health

This year, Wild Swimming Cornwall was founded on the premise that cold water immersion can have a positive impact on mental health. Whilst scientific research is in the early stages, there is still plenty of evidence to show how going for a cold water swim can help us lead healthier and happier lives. In this blog, we outline why wild swimming could be good for you and how it could help to improve your mental health.

First of all, what is wild swimming?

Wild swimming is the act of swimming outdoors in a place where nature is all around you. In Cornwall, this can include beaches, rivers, quarries and tidal pools. With over 300 beaches in Cornwall, there are a huge amount of places to choose from.

Six ways wild swimming can benefit mental health

There is a growing amount of evidence to suggest that cold water swimming can help to improve mental wellbeing. We outline some of the benefits below.

  1. It boosts dopamine levels – Immersing the body in cold water boosts dopamine levels and increases the release of endorphins.
  2. Ecotherapy – Being outdoors and connecting with nature has a proven, positive impact on mental wellbeing. Research shows that heading out into green and/ or blue spaces can help make us feel better. This also helps to combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  3. Mindfulness – Sometimes it can be difficult to bring ourselves into the present moment, especially when suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health conditions. The feeling of cold water, combined with being outside in nature, helps us to experience a connection between body and mind. This can help to bring us into the present moment.
  4. Community – The wild swimming community is notoriously friendly. By joining a local group or beginning to swim with people you already know, we can build on new and existing friendships. 
  5. Exercise – Keeping fit and healthy can have a huge positive impact on both our physical and mental health. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise and can help lower blood pressure, increase immunity and is considered a low-impact exercise making it more joint friendly.
  6. Reducing symptoms of anxiety – Overcoming the resistance to entering cold water can help us to build mental resilience. Over time this helps us to become more confident and boost self esteem.

Safety

If you embark on any new physical activity, we recommend you first check with your GP to make sure it is safe.

Before starting a wild swim, it is crucial to undertake a risk assessment. Never swim alone and always swim within your limits. The risks increase considerably during the winter, when there is more swell and the water and air temperature is colder. However, the risks are present all year round.

Do you feel inspired?

If you feel inspired to give it a go, make sure you read up on how to swim safely in the sea before doing so. Here are some important tips from Mind:

  • Wear the right kit
  • Only swim where it’s safe; where you can enter and exit the water easily.
  • Ideally, swim with someone else. If you don’t have a friend who’s brave enough, stick to beaches where there will be other people around like surfers or dog walkers.
  • Acclimatise to the cold. As the temperature drops, enter the water slowly.
  • Know your limits – spend less time in the water as the temperature drops.
  • Warm up slowly. Don’t take a hot shower. Hot drinks and snuggly clothes are best!

Good luck, and don’t give up after the first attempt. It will hurt and will take a while before you feel the benefits.

Check out more Mind information here:

If you are unsure of how to swim, join a local group or reach out for advice at wildswimmingcornwall@gmail.com.

For an extensive list of safety advice, head to wildswimmingcornwall.co.uk/safety and the RNLI website

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