THERE ARE many beneficial aspects of outdoor swimming, but two of the most positive effects are the effects it will have on your mental health and physical fitness.
Cold water releases endorphins and dopamine, it stimulates and strengthens your immune system, helps to clear lactate from your muscles and can even be used to alleviate feelings of anxiety or depression.
The health and fitness benefits of outdoor swimming are well documented. As an endurance activity, it is an excellent way to improve your cardiovascular ability. It strengthens your heart and lungs and can be used to raise your aerobic threshold when trained and programmed in the correct way.
It also develops your fitness in a way that is easily transferrable to other sports. If you lift weights, play football, rugby, tennis, run marathons etc then outdoor swimming will work effectively as a free and simple way to improve your general fitness and act as helpful recovery work.
Outdoor swimming also forces you to take control of your breathing and improves your confidence in your own physical abilities. However, the positive ways in which it can reduce stress are not well documented.
How Outdoor Swimming Helps to Reduce Stress
Wild Swimming is an excellent way to diffuse stress. Physiologically, the release of endorphins, stimulated through exercise, is an efficient way to reduce any excessive build-up of cortisol in the human body.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released to help you respond to stressful conditions and is healthy in appropriate amounts. For example, you will be familiar with the feeling of getting butterflies in your stomach associated with feeling nervous before an important event. This is your body elevating cortisol levels and releasing adrenaline. The result is that you become more alert, focused and quick to react; more responsive to face the conditions of the event.
In certain contemporary societies, this may be more commonly be linked to an important meeting, public presentation or job interview for example. While this is healthy, and will generally help you to perform well, constantly elevated levels of cortisol in the human body eventually lead to fatigue, hormonal imbalances and burnout of the central nervous system.
Many job environments are poorly designed and managed, and so can stimulate this kind of consistently active stress response. Have you ever spent time feeling constantly stressed or on edge all the time? Times when you always sleep badly and the smallest, most insignificant events irritated you beyond belief? How about feeling constantly worried about things that didn’t really matter in the end?
This could be linked with elevated cortisol levels, and an outdoor swim is a great way to calm your nerves and restore your nervous system properly.
A More Natural Response
What outdoor swimming does is allow your natural stress response to operate in a primal physiological sense by reacting to real physical environment. Before you jump in, your body is aware that it is about to swim in cold water, and the anticipation you feel is your body is preparing you for what is to come. This is a healthy and natural stress response, honed over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. It is good for your body to be tested in this way. It is healthy to be “stressed” like this from time to time.
In our first book “Swim Wild”, written by youngest brother Jack with contributions from Calum and myself, we go into much more detail about the positive effects of outdoor swimming and how they can impact your life physically, emotionally and spiritually. Check it out if you would like to learn more.
Big brother Robbie (31) is the eldest of the trio. He was the proverbial canary in the cage, sent down to test the gloomy caverns of adulthood before the other two. An artist and writer, some of his swim-inspired VARC paintings were recently shown at a solo exhibiton at the Kendal Arts Centre. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of BOXROX Magazine, the world’s most widely read magazine for fans of functional fitness and Crossfit with 2.5 million monthly page-views from over 150 countries.