Updated: Jul 14, 2019
I’m the first to admit it – I don’t really like swimming. I know it’s an extremely effective form of exercise but to be honest I find trudging up and down the pool boring and the chlorine plays havoc with my skin and hair. Last year, however, I’ve discovered outdoor swimming or as it’s better known these days, wild swimming.
It started with a dip in the sea on a hot day. The water was freezing and I lasted all of five minutes before my fingers and toes turned blue but it was thrilling to be outside – the tingle of the cold water on my skin, the fresh air and, above all, the sense of adventure.
Wild swimming is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and with good reason. It provides an opportunity to get close to nature and discover the beauty of your local landscape. It creates that feeling of freedom and exhilaration often missing in our largely indoor, deskbound lives.
Apart from the obvious fitness gains derived from swimming in general, wild swimming has plenty of other health benefits. Immersion in cold water relieves muscle aches, boosts the immune system and helps relieve depression with its natural endorphin high. It can also help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and boost the libido.
Living in Cornwall, I’m fortunate to have some incredible swimming spots on my doorstep but even at this time of year the sea is chilly. While I’ve seen plenty of hardy souls happy to take the plunge in just a swimming costume I’ve had to invest in a wetsuit. Not only does it mean I can last longer in the water, it also helps me to stay afloat.
Swimming in the sea is very different from the pool. Cold water makes you less buoyant, you have to deal with swell and currents and it’s more difficult to judge where you’re going. In short, it’s far more challenging so don’t assume you’re going to be able to swim the same distance you could in the pool.
The first couple of times I swam I was taken aback by how unfit I felt. I got tired quickly, staggering out of the sea after just 10 minutes, out of breath and with limbs like jelly. Although I’m stronger now I still consider myself a beginner and I never forget how dangerous the water can be.
This applies to all wild swimming locations whether it’s a river, lake, waterfall or quarry. Always take basic safety precautions and err on the side of caution. First and foremost, never swim alone and make sure you know your limits. Start with short swims and don’t stray to far from the shore.
There are plenty of recommendations of wild swimming locations online as well as tips and advice on how to stay safe and make the most of your swim. Both https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com and http://www.wildswimming.co.uk are excellent places to start.