The Amazing Benefits of Open Water Swimming

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By Carly Rea

It may take some time to get used to, but health experts across the globe regularly praise the benefits of cold water swimming, sometimes called wild swimming or open water swimming.

Not only does it give you the perfect opportunity to get back into nature and enjoy the fresh air, but evidence also shows it has overwhelmingly positive impacts on our mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

Whether you are brave enough to attempt it in your favourite bikini bottoms and top or prefer the added layer of a swimsuit, incorporating open-water swimming into your schedule will have you reaping the rewards in no time.

Cold Water Therapy

Cold water therapy is not a new concept. In fact, it can be traced back as far back as Ancient Greece and the principles of thermal medicine.

When the face is submerged in cold water, messages are sent out through the parasympathetic nervous system, which causes your organs to go into a ‘rest and digest’ state, lowering the heart rate and reducing inflammation.

This causes us to become fully relaxed, resulting in chemicals like serotonin and noradrenaline being released into the bloodstream, which is believed to create pain-blocking pathways in the brain. These benefits can be achieved through cold showers, plunge pools, and cold water swimming.

open water swimming in lake

Benefits

There are numerous benefits to cold water swimming that can positively affect both the body and mind, further boosting its growing popularity.

Full-Body Workout

Swimming is one of the best exercises for people of all ages and fitness levels. It provides a full-body workout without adding unnecessary strain on your joints and muscles.

Combine this excellent workout with cold waters, and your body has to work even harder to stay afloat while also battling frigid temperatures. When swimming in open waters, you will also likely be wearing a swimsuit, swimming shoes, and potentially gloves, adding extra weight that needs to be carried. Combining all these factors creates a reasonably intensive workout.

Instant Mood Booster

Aside from the proven physical benefits of cold water swimming, the emotional benefits of the activity are difficult to overestimate. The pleasant pain of plunging your body into freezing cold water is immediately rewarded with a flood of positive endorphins, leaving you feeling incredibly calm and relaxed.

When these endorphins are released, which actively work to fight stressors and relieve our bodies of pain and general unpleasantness, they attach themselves to the brain’s reward centers, triggering the creation of dopamine, more commonly known as the happy hormone. Studies have shown that cold-water immersion can boost our dopamine levels by as much as 530%.

open water ocean swimming

Improved Cardiovascular Health

One of the best physical advantages of cold water swimming is improved cardiovascular health, as our hearts and lungs get a decent workout throughout the activity. However, swimming in open water differs greatly from the swimming pool, and the correct preparation is needed.

Breathing in open water environments takes practice and time to become accustomed to it. You need to experiment with breathing on both sides of the body instead of just one, as this allows you to generally breathe better in the new conditions.

Furthermore, the water temperature will be a shock to your system, so using a wetsuit will enable your body to adjust better.

Jump Starts Metabolism

A study by Charles University revealed that cold water therapy could increase your metabolism, the process by which food is transformed into energy, by nearly 350%.

An additional study conducted in the Netherlands found this was due to cold water producing a physiological state known as cold-induced thermogenesis, where the body is actively working to bring your internal temperature back to normal levels.

While having a higher metabolic rate presents a number of health benefits, it is advantageous to those hoping to lose weight, as a higher rate allows you to burn more calories when engaging in non-exercise activities like sleeping and sitting.

open water swimming at sunset

Reduces Pain & Inflammation

The most well-known benefit of cold water therapy is its ability to be a natural pain relief system. When your body has swelling of any kind, your first action plan is to apply an ice pack. Researchers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University have found that cold-water immersion directly after exercising can help to reduce inflammation and pain for at least 24 hours post-workout.

When it comes to chronic pain, however, much of the evidence pointing to the various healing effects of cold-water swimming is anecdotal. While it may offer some instant relief, it has yet to be proven to provide concrete scientific evidence to provide long-term relief and support.

Contributes to Ecotherapy

Being out in nature has been found to positively contribute to our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Whether you swim in the sea, lakes, or dams, wild swimming perfectly combines the numerous advantages of swimming with the great outdoors.

Taking time to observe the incredible natural world around you can help you slow down and connect with nature in a way that reduces stress and anxiety, particularly for those who live in busy cities or have stressful corporate jobs. Some studies have cited evidence that it can help alleviate early symptoms of depression and stop panic attacks.

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