I'VE BEEN ASKED a few times recently why swimming in cold water is good for you. Each time I offered a short list of the various health benefits I could remember. Then afterwards I found myself at a computer, digging through reams of written research, discovering countless other ways in which this hobby is good for you.
Once I read that stuff I’m always disappointed that I didn’t give a better answer. So, if like me, you have limited faculties for remembering the info you need, but seemingly limitless faculties for downloading and storing pointless information (like the name of Jabba the Hut’s beaked sidekick in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – that’s Salacious Crumb, by the way) here’s a list of 50 Reasons You Should Start Swimming Wild.
Let’s see if some of these will stick in our minds:
What it does for your head…
- It puts you at water level and allows you to experience the natural world on nature’s terms.
- It helps the imagination and intellect – in the past many famous intellectuals and philanthropists used a cold water cure to counteract slumps in creativity. George Bernard Shaw, Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale all advocated cold baths and showers to fortify their mental constitution.
- It causes a decrease in cortisol and other stress hormones.
- It produces a subsequent endorphin high that naturally improves your mood.
- It allows you to order and slow your thoughts by getting you away from bustling crowds.
- It removes the headache of swimming lanes and bumping into devil may care sprint swimmers.
- It improves attention span. Your head gains the gift of simplicity as you focus on a simple process of stroke, stroke, breathe – or whatever you prefer.
- It makes your next YouTube spiral more creative. After a while you’ll start to wander through channels of swimming videos (check out Lewis Pugh’s Five Swims For One Reason series with Ben Brown) you never knew existed. In hindsight, this often proves much more stimulating and worthwhile than hours spent watching animal attacks or people stumbling over.
- It serves as a form of meditation, introducing you to the rhythm of your breathing and providing a watery silence wherein you can simply be… for a while.
- It gives you a launching point to start reading the wild swimming bible: Waterlog by Roger Deakin.
- It brings you closer to the delights of being an amateur underwater photographer.
- It changes the way you holiday. Suddenly you’ll find yourself searching maps for far-flung spots and lines of blue.
- It changes the way you see your species. Through wild swimming I discovered we’re an animal that’s biologically suited to spending lots of time in the water. Unlike most land mammals we have a layer of subcutaneous fat, like whale blubber, that we can use for buoyancy and warmth. We’re also hairless, making us more streamlined and dexterous when we swim.
- It breaks up your routine and gives you time to clear your head of humdrum, everyday business.
- It creates an addictive and healthy urge you’ll keep coming back to.
- It makes cake taste better.
- It makes those warm showers a whole lot sweeter.
- And, after a long, cold swim, it makes your bed feel like the greatest place on Earth.
What it does for your body…
- As you know, your body works hard to keep you moving and warm when you swim in cold water. This allows you to burn more calories because fat is your primary energy source. Over time this will also improve your metabolism.
- It increases the libido of both women and men.
- It improves fertility rates.
- It flushes and improves your circulation, pushing blood through capillaries, veins and arteries. In time, this can shorten the time it takes your blood to reach your extremities.
- It exfoliates your skin.
- It teaches you to control your body temperature and improves your ability to manage the cold.
- It reduces blood pressure.
- It also reduces cholesterol.
- It boosts the immune system, increasing your white blood cell counts. The cold water acts a mild antagonist, activating and training your immune system.
- It gets you out of heated, chlorinated pools, which aren’t as good for your body.
- It gives you space, time and freedom to work on your swimming technique.
- It improves muscle growth and development, particularly strengthening your triceps, back and shoulders.
- It immerses you in cold and allows less strained movement, soothing any vestigial muscular aches.
- It might help you to stop smoking. If you spend more time relying on your lungs you might be encouraged to stop sending smoke there.
- It shuffles your exercise regime. Physically, the act of wild swimming puts you in an environment you’re not used to. This adds an element of fun and exploration that can encourage you to do more exercise.
What it does for your heart…
- It boosts vitality and even improves your sex life. There are a few tales about men having to bathe their testicles in cold water to improve their ardour and fertility. Then again, those might just be excuses for a cooling ol’ testicle bath.
- It makes you feel liberated
- It instils a sense of adventure in you.
- It enhances your knowledge of biodiversity – travelling down waterways you’re much more likely to encounter rare flora and fauna.
- After swimming in rivers, ponds, tarns and lakes, it eventually brings you to the ocean. It’s hard not to fall further in love with our Blue Planet when you start dipping your toes in these colossal expanses.
- It’s a good laugh.
- It takes you back to your primal roots. There’s evidence that Neanderthals used to pull huge catfish from the shallows and filleted them on the shores. Further back, there’s more evidence suggesting that our ape descendants foraged and learnt to walk upright in waist-deep water.
- Following on from the last one, Sir Alistair Hardy suggested that swimming outdoors is about more than pleasure – it’s an experience that goes to the very core of the human condition.
- It takes you down the road less travelled and gives you a taster of the pioneer spirit.
- It increases your chances of one-day swimming wild with intelligent and colossal cetaceans. Who doesn’t want to swim with whales and dolphins?
- You discover a new kind of bravery in wild swimming legends like Lynne Cox, Lewis Pugh and Martin Strell.
- It’s a gateway to other aquatic sports you might grow to love – free diving, scuba diving, tombstoning…
- You earn respect from hardy locals. Head for a swim in a cold body of water and you usually earn some points from the local country folk.
- It introduces you to parts of cities you never knew existed – I had no idea how many lidos, ponds and green spaces there were in London!
- It doesn’t discriminate – anyone can swim, regardless of race, physique, gender, age, etc…
- It introduces you to a friendly, inclusive community of like-minded enthusiasts (check out the Outdoor Swimming Society if you’re in the UK).
- You learn to love the Speedo. I used to be embarrassed in anything other than baggy board shorts – now I rock my Speedos with pride. This is the skimpy, unflattering uniform of all swimmers and you should enjoy being part of the tribe!
There you have it ladies and gents… that’s fifty reasons to throw on your suit and make a dash for the nearest source of cold water. Leap into a still tarn, sprint into the ruffled ocean or dive over your neighbour’s sprinkler system – just get out there, be happy and keep swimming wild!
Little brother Jack (26) - the youngest of the Hudson brothers - is an author represented by the literary agency Curtis Brown. He writes mostly for Adventure Uncovered, focusing on personal stories that link exploration and conservation. He was also the guest adventure editor at Red Bull UK. 'Swim Wild' is his debut book.