Last Updated on 03/10/2023
Most people would shudder at the thought of exposing themselves to cold water voluntarily let alone the idea of wild swimming. Still, the popularity of outdoor swimming is growing and it could be for good reason. The health benefits of wild swimming are available to anyone and can help with a variety of personal issues.
Many of the benefits in this guide relate to cold water exposure but are also relevant to wild swimming which is almost always done in naturally cold water. We recommend getting one of these surf ponchos or hooded changing towels to get you as dry and warm as possible when you surface from your swim.
More and more people are choosing wild swimming as a way to heal themselves of various mental and physical ailments. Safety is an important issue so be sure to make people aware of your plans and use a waterproof swimming bag float to increase visibility and security. Here are 15 reasons wild swimming is of benefit to the body and mind.
15 Health Benefits of Wild Swimming
When you expose your body to extremes of cold it sends your blood to your central core and organs to reserve heat which gets the blood pumping. When you get out of the water and your body warms back up, blood is pushed back to the surface which again gets the blood pumping. This is why you feel that rush when you jump into cold water as well as wrap a big towel around you to warm up.
Putting your body in these anomalous situations forces rapid and increased blood flow which helps to flush your capillaries, arteries, and veins. This increased requirement is like exercising your circulation response and over time it gets stronger which starts to benefit your circulation and shows in ways you might not have been expecting.
Swimming is an excellent way to stay in shape whether you do it in a heated pool or in the plunge pool of a waterfall. The benefit of wild swimming is that your body has to work twice as hard to both sustain your exertion and stay warm in cold water. To keep your body warm when swimming out in the wild, you will burn way more calories just trying to maintain heat as opposed to just swimming alone.
The other form of exercise that goes hand in hand with wild swimming is hiking. Most secluded spots and beaches require at least a small walk to get to the water’s edge, and stretching your legs is always good for your health. Some people will go to great lengths to swim in their favorite ‘wild spa’, often walking for miles to reach their own personal pool which only adds to the health benefits of wild swimming.
Boosts Your Immune System
Even though it takes a fair amount of commitment to willingly jump into and swim in cold water outdoors, research shows that those who do it regularly will reap the rewards. Studies show that people who expose themselves to cold water on a daily basis increase their white blood cell count significantly which invigorates the immune system. The body also releases antioxidants, which help defend your cells from damage.
One of the biggest reasons most people get hooked is not for the amazing health benefits of wild swimming but for the buzz and feeling you get whilst doing it as well as the way you feel for the rest of the day. The shock to the system of swimming in cold water releases endorphins which help combat stress and pain and are often known as the happy hormone. Endorphins work in much the same way as opioids and can present similar feelings of euphoria which might explain why more and more people are getting addicted to wild swimming.
Enhanced Sexual Productivity
Taking a cold shower or swimming in cold water could potentially improve your sex life. In a study done in 1993, cold water exposure was to found to increase testosterone levels in men, which in turn gave their libido a boost. There was also a 2013 study that showed cold winter temperatures could improve sperm mythology (shape) and healthy movement. There are no known comparable benefits for women although some women believe it to have a positive effect on their sex drive.
As mentioned above, your body releases hormones when it experiences rapid cooling but did you know that the rise in beta-endorphin and noradrenaline levels can act as an antidepressant? On top of this, researchers found that a cold shower or bath sends an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses to the brain from peripheral nerve endings in the brain which can have further antidepressant effects.
Basically, if you are feeling depressed you should be willing to try anything and I promise that once you jump into a cold river or lake you won’t be feeling anything but exhilarated for the hours that follow. Check out this story to see just how it can help.
After the exercise of a wild swim combined with the hike to get there and the shock your body went into as you plunged into the water, you are bound to sleep well. While swimming outdoors stimulates the mind and makes you more alert during and after, once it has had time to recover from the initial shock your whole body feels looser and more relaxed. This could be to do with the fact that jumping into frigid water for a swim will make all your muscles tense up as you enter the water and so when that tension is released you feel lighter in yourself.
When you go wild swimming, the icy water will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which is biologically responsible for fixing the body after trauma. The stimulation of PNS will leave you feeling relaxed and content with resting which allows you to settle into a better than average nights sleep.
When you swim outdoors in cool water your body burns calories in a way that gives your metabolism a boost while trying to stay warm. Links have been found between exposing yourself to cold water and the activation of brown fat which is good because this type of fat is there to create heat by burning energy when you get cold. Long-term cold water swimming has been proven to increase your metabolism and ability to burn fat through thermogenesis.
Good for Your Skin
For centuries now, people have believed that bathing in different temperature waters does different things for your skin. Coldwater will stimulate blood flow in the skin and as it is circulated around the body with rapid temperature changes it will renew and nourish skin cells with nutrients and oxygen. Healthy skin will be well-nourished, and so it is thought that bathing and swimming in cold water is good for the skin.
We all know the age-old remedy of using ice to reduce swelling and most people who follow sports will have heard about the use of ice baths after intensive exercise. Swimming in wild places with fresh, cold water has the same effect as an ice bath and will lower the temperature of any damaged tissue and force the blood vessels to constrict. This, in turn, helps to reduce muscle inflammation and swelling, which helps in the midterm. Wild swimming in freezing cold water will also numb your nerve endings which will bring immediate relief to any sore spots.
This comes back to brown fat again, and typically, a higher brown fat to white fat ratio equals better fat burning efficiency and most likely less body fat in general. When your body burns brown fat as you swim outdoors, this lowers cholesterol as well as triglyceride levels, which is healthier for your heart as having high levels puts you at greater risk of heart attacks.
While jumping into cold and often murky water for a swim doesn’t sound like your average stress-reducing activity, there is reason to believe that it does help. One of the biggest reasons for this is the increased levels of norepinephrine which serves as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone that is released throughout your body during periods of stress. Swimming wild in cold water regularly has proven to increase norepinephrine levels by 2 to 3 times. The other thing the cold water will do is numb the nervous system which will reduce jitters and contribute to a calm demeanor.
Gets You Out Of the House
As the global population rises and more young people choose to live in cities, the importance of escaping the hustle and bustle of daily life is becoming ever more necessary for a healthy lifestyle. If you are lucky enough to own a dog, then you have a reason to leave the house every day, no matter what. But for most people, it becomes far too easy to stay within their comfort zone and so starting wild swimming is the perfect excuse to get out of the house.
Get Closer to Nature
As well as getting out of the house, the benefit of wild swimming is that you will be delighted every time you find a new shallow pool along a stream or picturesque waterfall while out on a hike. Wild swimming, by definition, means getting out into the wilderness or onto a coastline to enjoy nature’s gift of water. I have lost track of the times I have encountered wildlife whilst wild swimming, and it also raises my awareness about the pollution of our waterways.
Going out into the wild for a swim on a hot day is nothing short of a treat, but doing it in cold conditions or as many people do, all year round, is another level of brave. To muster up the courage to take off your winter clothing in snow and rain to enter cold water is nothing short of a miracle. Having the guts to go wild swimming without fear of imaginary monsters or the icy temperatures will make you feel strong and unstoppable.
What Is Wild Swimming?
The activity of wild swimming is essentially swimming in any open body of water, such as the ocean, lakes, rivers, and ponds. It involves researching, traveling long distances, and exploring new and secluded places to find a relaxing place to have a swim. For many wild swimmers, apart from ocean swimmers, it is more about taking a dip than doing laps so a waterfall plunge pool will often satisfy the urge to swim outdoors.
Is Wild Swimming Safe?
If done with common sense and with proper precaution then wild swimming is perfectly safe. As with most outdoor activities in remote locations, you should always let someone you trust know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
If wild swimming on the coast, then be aware of currents and riptides, which are notoriously dangerous as well as other dangers such as rocks and wildlife. You can keep your belongings in a dry bag to keep them safe while swimming.
Rivers pose different threats such as large debris floating downstream as well as strong currents and underwater objects that you could get trapped under or in.
If swimming in ponds, just be careful of deep mud that you could potentially get stuck in, but a general rule of thumb for all wild swimmers is that if it doesn’t feel safe, don’t risk it.
What Do You Need for Wild Swimming?
For wild swimming, you need basic swimwear and a towel, but there are lots of other things to make your outdoor swim more enjoyable and safe. Our favorite piece of essential wild swimwear is the hooded changing towel which is ideal for getting you dry and warm at the same time. The correct clothing and footwear to wear for the hike to the swimming hole and the correct clothing to warm you up after you get out and dry.
If it is only a short hike from the car then hiking sandals are a great option for wild swimming as you can wear them in the water too. You will need a backpack to carry your swimming gear in and potentially a dry bag for your wet clothing. You can take goggles or a snorkel if you like or if you are actually going for a long swim in cold water, then maybe a wetsuit would be appropriate.
Why Is Wild Swimming Gaining Popularity?
The health benefits of wild swimming have been gaining popularity in recent years due to some popular personalities, TV shows, and books focussing on the subject. Perhaps our favorite advocate of outdoor swimming is the famous Wim Hoff aka ‘iceman’. Mr Hoff believes in exposing the body to cold water combined with breathing exercises in order to improve immunity and increase your human potential. There is no better cold water than that of a river, lake, ocean or other bodies of water safe enough to take a dip.
Thanks for reading this article about the health benefits of wild swimming