• Simon Daley


From muscle to mental health, donning your wetsuit and heading to the great outdoors could do you the world of good.

Hands up if you’re sick of the swimming pool. You know, the nausea-inducing lights, the lane-hoggers, the kids splashing uncontrollably, the relentlessly repetitive nature of swimming the same lengths over and over.

There is more to swimming than this. So squeeze into a wetsuit, seek out your nearest lake, coastline, or heck, a handsome lido, and dive in for a leisurely crawl surrounded by nature.

1. You’ll make new friends

The mantra for open water swimming is never swim alone. So the wonderful backdrop to that is that it makes open water swimming incredibly social.

You always swim with other people, so there are social health benefits that you may not get from pool swimming.

You’ll form a new group of friends, and these social benefits boost the mental and emotional benefits you’re already getting from exercise on its own.

2. You’ll boost your ‘happy hormone’

People often talk about increases in adrenaline with open water swimming, but dopamine, AKA the ‘happy hormone’, is the key driver.

Exercise increases secretion of dopamine – a hormone that creates a feeling of euphoria, excitement and enjoyment. You get a greater surge in those happy hormones exercising outdoors compared to exercising indoors and particularly in cold water due to the stress it places on the body.

Another recent report showed that swimming in water of 14C increased dopamine levels by 250%.

3. You burn more calories

Submerging yourself in cold water is never fun, but as the coldness washes over you, remember: it’s helping to burn more calories.

As you enter cold water, your body responds physically – you hyperventilate, your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, and those things are potentially dangerous.

But because of this reaction you also get an increase in metabolic rate, so energy turnover increases.

You may also start to shiver but by shivering, you’re trying to increase your body temperature.

As humans, we don’t cope with changes of two degrees in body temperature because we can rapidly become hyperthermic, and hypothermic.

So we try to control that – as we get cold we increase our energy turnover. From a weight management perspective, we burn calories more rapidly in cold environments. Shivering thermogenesis can increase your metabolic rate up to tenfold, so you get a tenfold increase in energy expenditure.

4. It can help with depression

Exercise in general having a wholly positive effect on depression.

There's evidence people who are physically active have lower suicidal ideation. Exercise brings about a very positive impact on mood.

It improves vigour and reduces lethargy and depression. Open water swimming does that, and because of the added benefits of being in cold open water, we see greater gains in those areas - greater improvement in mood and a more positive impact on depression.

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