Immerse yourself in nature’s pool and reap the many benefits of a spot of wild swimming
Let me tell you from personal experience, there’s something truly spectacular about wild swimming that can’t be matched by indoor pools… and swimsuits are optional!
Forget chlorine, questionable changing facilities and lane rage and try the refreshing feeling of cool, crisp water lapping gently over your shoulders; the faint rustle of trees and calming hum of birdsong filling the air, all topped off with the sensation of your worries melting away. The sky’s your ceiling when you’re swimming outside – it’s all sunshine, errant clouds and mist patterns, not an off-white roof tile or “no heavy petting” sign in sight!
The fact is, wild swimming can be enjoyed all year round with the right kit (with many wild swimmers opting for not kit at all, if you catch my drift), but if, like me, you’re a fair weather swimmer then now is the best time of year to dive right in –pun very much intended!
As well as the obvious physical benefits, there are a plethora of other health benefits including elevated mood, bolstered immunity and vibrant looking skin. It doesn’t matter what’s happened during your day or how stressed out you feel, there’s nothing like the freshness of a lake or a running river to restore balance and calm. But where can you try this most tranquil of activities I hear you ask! Read on for the lowdown…
Where to explore…
- Lakes and reservoirs are the easiest places to enjoy wild swimming as they’re contained to one area and don’t have flowing tides or currents. They’re the perfect starting place for weaker swimmers or those fresh out of the pool, as they’re more controlled. Their tranquillity allows you to make the swim as easy or as difficult as you like, just as you would in a swimming pool. The water is fresh and usually pretty clear and they often attract a lot of wildlife. You may be lucky enough to hear the chorus of birds in the surrounding trees.
- Rivers can be a good challenge if you want to swim against different currents and the flow of the water. They can be quite fast-flowing and very invigorating, although they may also look a little murkier, as they contain silt and mud. Don’t be put off; they’re still great places to swim but you may need to be more cautious as you won’t be able to see the bottom. Don’t forget to don your beach shoes or sandals to protect your feet from any rocks or gravel as you get in and out.
- Estuaries are a partially enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into them and have a connection to the open sea. This means that the top of the estuary is made up of fresh water, while the bottom turns to salty seawater. You can enjoy the best of both worlds in an estuary
- Seawater can vary enormously, which is part of its beauty. You can swim in the same patch every day and each time it’ll be different depending on the waves and currents. Because the sea is made up of salt water as opposed to fresh, it gives you an entirely different feeling to swimming in lakes and rivers. The water seems to support you more and the waves almost carry you along. Like rivers, because of its flow the sea can work your body harder, but it’s so much fun you won’t even realise you’re getting a great workout. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of ducking under and over waves and being lifted through the swell.
- Waterfalls are like nature’s Jacuzzi! Although you can’t swim in them as such, you can swim under and near most of them. If you position yourself just right, you can enjoy a nice back massage free of charge, courtesy of Mother Nature herself. Not only this, but the air around a waterfall is charged with negative ions. These are formed when water particles crash together with oxygen to create a negative charge. There could be more than 100,000 negative ions around a waterfall, and these air-purifying particles are said to refresh your mind and body through increased oxygen flow.
Mind, body, soul and skin – an abundance of benefits
Swimming itself is incredibly healing. Water physically supports you in a weightless state, making it a fantastic form of exercise without added pressure on your joints. And wild swimming goes that one step further in terms of health benefits. Cold water gets your heart pumping and your circulation moving better than water in a swimming pool. It activates cold sensors positioned just a few millimetres under your skin, which help to increase your heart rate and promote better circulation, creating that invigorating ‘swimmers high’ many people talk about after a cold dip. Research by NASA has shown that regular wild swimming or any activity in cold water, such as a shower, leads to physical changes known as ‘cold adaptation’. These lower blood pressure and cholesterol, aid weight loss and even increase libido. Far from quelling the desire, the cold can actually boost it. Immersion in cold water can also soothes aching muscles and give your immune system a boost due to the release of feel-good endorphins, which also lift your mood.