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Cold Water Swimming and the Benefits

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

My bottom has never had so much attention. Every week an osteopath puts needles in it (accupuncture), it has had nerve function tested twice in A&E and a physiotherapist checks it regularly. I have sciatica and it is painful - some of the most severe pain I have ever experienced. With back and glute spasms so painful I have been in tears unable to get up from the floor and I collapsed getting out of bed. I am sitting on an ice pack as I type this and I have tried several medications. I am currently on a combination which help to keep the pain at bay but the pain seems to like moving around. I currently have parts of my leg and foot which are numb and other parts which have pins and needles. Walking is hard and I can't stand or sit in the same position for long. I am walking with a stick. I've had this sciatic pain for at least six months, in varying degrees.

The reason I am writing all of this is so that I can hopefully look back at this blog one day and think how far I have come since then. But mainly to explore the benefits of cold water swimming (hence the title). I have to admit I've never been a huge fan. I much preferred paddle boarding or walking. But I first went with a friend in a wetsuit. It wasn't as bad as I thought but we were only in for a few minutes. I did it a few more times after that but it seemed like a lot of effort in getting changed etc afterwards for what was only a few moments swimming. My sciatica got worse after that and I used it as an 'excuse' to not go swimming as I couldn't really walk to swimming spots.

But in May I went to Wales for a weekend to do a photoshoot with the Bluetits swimming groups. See my blog about it here. It was there that I met some incredibly inspiring other Bluetits from all over the country. During the shoot we went into the glorious Pembrokeshire turquoise sea and swam and jumped the waves. It was my first time swimming in a swimsuit without a wetsuit and it was glorious!

Since coming home I have been several times and have completely ditched the wetsuit! When the covid restrictions lifted to extend to 30 people outside, I arranged the first group swim for the Shingle Street Bluetits, we had about 9 people and it was so much fun! We have had several more and it has been such a privilege to meet other like-minded people. We have an amazing 130 members now.

Benefits of Wild Swimming

From seas, to lakes and rivers, the initial shock of the cold water means you have a stress response. But the more you immerse yourself in cold water, the less stressful you find it next time. This also starts to apply in other situations, so finding scary experiences less stressful such as a driving test or interview. You will also get newfound confidence after braving a dip.

Cold-water immersion can alleviate stress and depression and help tackle autoimmune disorders. It has also been linked to pain relief, and a reduction in inflammation, increased concentration and libido, and improved circulation. I have definitely found that it helps to reduce the pain in my leg and back - after swimming I feel amazing. Partly due to the endorphins as well.

You may have heard of the Wim Hof Method: a combination of breathing, cold therapy and commitment that offers a range of benefits. Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof got his nickname 'The Iceman' by breaking a number of records related to cold exposure, such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, and running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot.

But it not just the benefits of the cold water; if you swim with others, cold water swimming is like a holistic therapy. As well as the benefits of the cold water there is also the exercise, being in nature and the camaraderie and community of swimming with like-minded people.

For me starting a flock of the Bluetits has been amazing. The Bluetit mission is to create a confident, capable community through cold water swimming and adventures. In 2020, we have over 6000 Bluetits worldwide, who are joined together by a love of swimming, adventure, and the sense of community that brings. We are not an official club, there are no membership fees and anyone is welcome at any of the informal swims arranged in the groups.

Cold Water Shock

The weather has been lovely and hot recently. The water temperature has been a bit warmer as a result. But if you go into quite cold water, or if it is your first time then when you get into cold water, the first thing you will feel is the cold shock response – the initial gasp, rapid breathing and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Read more about this from the Outdoor Swimming Society. Note: you can still get cold water shock in a wetsuit.

When you get out of the water, these things will help you to get warm quickly:

  • Get out of your wet clothes as soon as possible and get dry.

  • Put on dry warm clothes, including hat gloves and thick socks. A changing robe may help with getting changed and drying you at the same time.

  • Have a hot drink and maybe a snack.

Keep yourself and others safe by waiting until you have warmed up before driving.

Going with Children

I went recently with the kids and they went in with their body boards and wetsuits on. It can be a really fun activity to do with the family. In the winter children can enjoy swimming too but you will need to take extra care. They, mostly, are smaller and lighter than adults, have a higher body surface to volume ratio and often have less body fat, so they will cool down faster. You might need someone else to help the kids get dressed if your hands are numb. It is Drowning Prevention Week in June (19-26 June) so if you are swimming with little ones make sure you have a read of my blog post: Keeping safe around water with children.

Sunrise and Sunset

With the glorious sunshine we have had recently I went in every day - sometimes in the evenings and sometimes in my lunchtime as I am so extremely lucky to live just four minutes' drive from the beach. There is a beautiful natural lagoon at my nearest beach which has seawater in but none of the jellyfish or other possible creepy crawlies! Recently I went with a friend and we swam in front of the most beautiful sunset, it was amazing, see photo below.

If you love wild swimming, or have been inspired to have a go, let me know in the comments or on social media!

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