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Whilst visiting my daughter in Cornwall recently I got to witness 2 mature ladies having a swim in the beautiful clear sea at Falmouth’s gyllyngvase beach; which all sounds very lovely, except it was the middle of January on a cold winter’s day! Sitting in the warm beach cafe eating my cooked breakfast, the sight of various people braving the 8° water in just their swimsuits was fascinating and as somebody who loves the outdoors and likes a physical challenge, I realised I was actually envious of them! Despite the cold weather, they had smiles on their faces and I bet they felt a real sense of achievement when they got out. What makes people want to immerse themselves in unheated open water whatever the weather?

We all know that outdoor exercise can improve anxiety and depression. It is one of the self-help steps in Mind’s “five steps to well-being”. But there are more and more people engaging in open water or wild swimming. I found 100 social wild swim clubs listed on and they are just the ones that have contacted that website wanting to publicise their group. There are many more out there. So let’s look at what the draw is:

The benefits of open water swimming or wild swimming have been widely documented, with enthusiasts claiming it gives a sense of elation; relaxes and soothes aches and pains; relieves depression and boosts the immune system. The cold water is exhilarating, boosts your mood and leaves you buzzing.

The idea that there are physical and psychological benefits of bathing in natural water has been around for centuries – think of our own UK spa towns like Bath, Harrogate and Buxton; Roman and Turkish baths with their hot and cold plunge pools and historical figures like Florence Nightingale and Charles Dickens who both claimed to have been cured by traditional forms of hydrotherapy. Diving into cold water causes blood to be pumped to your extremities and endorphins are released giving you a natural high and a feeling of well-being. It is also claimed that swimming in cold water regularly, causes a process known as cold adaptation to begin, which makes your body more adapted to the cold water making swimming in it feel very pleasant. Testimonies of it improving mood, libido and the immune system are numerous. Add to that the pleasure of being in natural surroundings like seas, lakes, rivers and waterfalls and you can understand why it is claimed that it is a stress-buster and an oasis from our modern digital age.


Look up where there are safe places to swim (I have listed some websites at the end of this blog). Never swim in canals, urban rivers, stagnant lakes or reedy shallows.

You are responsible for your own safety, therefore ideally don’t swim alone – either join an open water or wild swimming club, or make sure you have a swimming buddy.

Make sure you are nice and warm before you enter the water. Wear lots of warm clothes and warm up before you get in the water and again when you get out.

Know before you swim where you will enter and leave the water.

If it’s really cold water, don’t stay in too long – 20 minutes is a good amount of time before you will start to shiver.

Wear a bright coloured swim cap if you are swimming where there are boats in the water, so that you are visible.