The benefits of wild swimming might have been questioned once upon a time, but today, it’s a different story entirely.
Where there is a lake, river, ocean or pond, a human stands shivering on the bank; goose pimples rising on her arms as she tests the water with a toe, before taking the plunge.
In 1960 Marine Biologist Alastair Hardy argued that we descended from a branch of apes who lost their body hair when they waded into water in search of food. Whether you subscribe to the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis or not, it’s impossible to deny our enduring love affair with open water.
From the estuarine haunts of the Naiads, the ancient nymphs who became the object of Greek nature cults to the sacred springs of the Romano-British; wild swimming as nature worship continues to grow in popularity despite the best efforts of Ted Heath’s administration the early 70s who attempted to deter an entire generation from wild swimming with a series of terrifying public information films. Things reached a peak with Donald Pleasance’s chilling performance as The Spirit of Dark And Lonely Water in the 1973 COI film Dark Water.
Forty-six years have passed since Dark Water. And twenty since Roger Deakin penned ‘Waterlog’, a paean to wild swimming written at a time when the activity was considered both dangerous and transgressive by the pool-bound majority.
“When you enter the water, something, like a metamorphosis happens. Leaving behind the land, you go through the looking glass surface and enter a new world in which survival, not ambition or desire, is the dominant aim.”
― Roger Deakin, Waterlog
In the pages of ‘Waterlog’, Deakin sang the dawn chorus of the OSS (The Outdoor Swimming Society) whose early evangelists lead the plunge for the more than 70,000 members who swell the organisation’s ranks today. Meticulously cataloguing their trips to remote wild expanses of water around the world, the OSS remains something of an anachronism.
Born of a deep felt need to turn away from the numbing digital glare that permeates our lives, the movement snowballed off the back of social media’s unique ability to geo-tag wild swims and share their location with the world on an open source map.
A thing of rare beauty, ‘Wild Swim – An Open Source World Wide Map’ allows you to find an outdoor swimming experience wherever you are.
Be it a lake, river, ocean or lido, there is no longer any excuse not to take the plunge.
When we immerse ourselves in cold water our bodies respond by surrounding our organs with warm blood. Our circulation improves as our heart works overtime to pump blood around our body. This means that inflamed areas heal faster. Since inflammation is linked to ageing, swimming has positive effects on age markers.
Researchers at Indiana University revealed that regular swimmers were 20 years younger than their chronological age at the time of testing. Age markers like muscle mass, blood chemistry, central nervous system, lung function, cardiovascular performance and blood pressure all scored higher among their cohort of regular swimmers.
Calms and centres
Water is by definition fluid in its state. When you feel the many different temperatures that ebb and flow around your body you become mindful. The weightlessness of swimming is unique.
Lifts the mood
A well-reported case in the British Medical Journal reported how swimming in cold water might be an effective treatment for mood disorders including anxiety and depression. The journal’s study documented the case of a 24-year-old woman who had been suffering with TRD (Treatment Resistant Depression) since the age of 17. When she began trialling a swimming-based therapy her mood gradually improved on the Beck scale. Slowly, her depression lifted until she was able to taper off her antidepressant medication and begin to find pleasure in life again.
A UK study of sea swimmers revealed that they suffer from fewer colds and that when they did catch them their symptoms were milder. Immersion in cold water not only raises the number of infection fighting white blood cells but it also boots the body’s levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that helps to fight free radicals.
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