If open seas, flowing rivers, fresh water pools and any large, enticing bodies of water call your name, you know the yearning of an open water swim. Indie Bornhoft deep dives into the new wave of cold water swimming…
Cold water, open water or ‘wild swimming’ has become the trendy thing to do, with bloggers and beach bums alike taking the plunge into uncharted waters. Maybe it was the shackles of lockdown that drove people into the water to clear the mind, or simply that this new age hobby has immeasurable rewards.
But why are they doing this?
Let’s get under the surface of this sport.
WILL IT MAKE ME MORE HEALTHY?
First off, it goes without saying that the health benefits are the main reason so many people have taken to it. Submerging the body in cold temperatures improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, burns extra calories, reduces stress, boosts the immune system and improves libido. Yippee!
The body naturally rests at around 37 degrees, and exposing the body to blasts of cold water causes the blood to rush to the surface of the skin, and switches on our natural response to warm itself up. When cold water hits your limbs, it narrows the circulation on the body’s surface, meaning the blood in your deeper tissues has to circulate at faster rates to maintain homeostasis. The more we activate this process the quicker the body will learn how to do it, out of the water, which in turns leads to a decrease in hypertension, poor circulation and heart disease.
If you’ve ever been in cold water you’ll remember how quickly your heart rate spikes initially, as your heart pumps faster to keep you warm. This forces the blood from your extremities towards the chest, and increases the heart rate by approximately 20 beats per minute and makes you feel breathless.The fact that you are working to keep yourself afloat, or even swimming a certain distance, will naturally burn more calories. Also, the shock of the plunge can activate the flight or fight response in the amygdala and release adrenaline which burns high levels of calories. Being immersed in cold water requires extra calories to warm the body up especially when we are experiencing involuntary muscle spasms such as shivering. So switch your gym session for a swim session!
Modern life is full of lots of small stressors, creating a pretty much 24/7 low level cortisol release in the kidneys, but when we are swimming we have to regulate our breathing to stop us panicking which acts as a mindful process and releases this excess cortisol from the body. This process helps to reduce our overall stress, low mood or negative mental health. Stress can cause unwanted inflammation in the body, resulting in chronic health conditions and by submerging the body in colder temperatures, this triggers our circulatory system to reduce the overall inflammation in the body. Happy days…
✓ IMMUNE SYSTEM
One of the most important pillars of wellbeing, the immune system. Cold water swimming sky rockets your white blood cell count, because your body is forced to adapt to challenging conditions. As time goes by, your body will be better equipped at initiating its defences = a happy and strong immune system. See ya later bugs!
Cold water exposure heightens the production of testosterone and oestrogen which are essential chemicals for a great sex life and healthy fertility. So grab your partner and get wet! Another feel good bonus is a great mood! Cold water swimming produces tonnes of endorphins, as we bring ourselves close to the pain barrier and our bodies learn to cope by releasing that delicious chemical, we become happier and more energetic!
HOW DO I START?
How do I do it? Should I go alone? Where would I go? Do I need to check the tides? How long should I stay in for? Do I need to bring anything? What temperature does the water need to be? Do I need to put my head under?
These are all common questions.
Start by buddying up, find a swimming companion who shares your keen zest for adventure and scout out the places nearby. The internet will help you find your nearest sea or river spot.
WHERE WOULD I GO?
Once you’ve found somewhere that takes your fancy, search up the tide times, and make sure you know which state of tide (high or low/ springs or neaps) is safest to swim. Please be aware that the state of tide alone doesn’t dictate the safety of the location. Elements such as wind speed, wind direction, swell height and swell period can impact your time in the water. As a general rule of thumb; high offshore winds, strong or spring outgoing tides and large swells are usually red flags, especially if you are just starting out. This is because you are at risk of being swept out to sea or facing a strong paddle back to shore. But, places like rivers and ponds are less affected by winds and tides.
Now you’ve found your sweet spot, pick a date and a time to go, then you can monitor any changes in weather before you set off. Always swim with someone, have a phone in a waterproof case or have someone watching on the beach incase you get into trouble and they can phone for help.
WHAT TEMPERATURE DOES THE WATER NEED TO BE?
Water temperatures in the UK range from single digits in the winter to the the slightly more tropical, high teens in the summer.
0-5 DEGREES = Extreme winter conditions, can cause cold shock and only suitable for experienced swimmers, and only recommended for a few minutes.
5-10 DEGREES = Early spring temperatures in the UK, still extremely cold, and shouldn’t exceed 5-10 minutes, unless you are super hard core.
10-15 DEGREES = Reached around late spring/early summer in the UK. Still feels very cold, but longer swim times are now within reach. Experienced swimmers can last up to an hour, but if you are starting out, try with up to roughly 15-20 minutes if you can bare it.
15-20 DEGREES = Summer in the UK! Hoorah! The classic British “its alright once you’re in” – the risk of hypothermia is much lower so longer swims of up to an hour or more in length are possible for experienced individuals or just a quick dip if you’re starting out.
So now you have a choice, wetsuit or no wetsuit? We obviously recommend starting off in the high performance Eco made Vivida Linda Suit , for an added layer of heat protection during the summer months or opting for a higher mm wetsuit in the winter.
But, most of the benefits of cold water swimming come when bare skin is exposed to the elements, so leave that wetsuit behind and get your kit off! Plus you’ll look great & be doing your bit for the planet in
DO I NEED TO BRING ANYTHING?
In terms of items to bring with you, always make sure you have a phone, a towel or changing robe, potentially waterproof shoes or wetsuit boots if you desired location is rocky or dangerous under foot, and maybe even neoprene wetsuit gloves and a hat to ease the sting of the icy waters in the depths of winter. It obviously depends if you are swimming in a bathing suit or wetsuit as to what you bring to wear in the water. Perfect for easy changing and quick drying is, the Original Poncho Towel, you can even drive home in them too!
Rash guards will keep the sun off you and protect against sun burn. Our favourite is the Vivida Women of the Sea Rash Guard.
HOW LONG SHOULD I STAY IN FOR?
The duration of your swim will be largely governed by how you’re feeling, and the temperature of the water & what kit you’re equipped with. Before your first ever swim, you can build up your tolerance by taking a 1-2 minute ice cold shower so the shock isn’t too much to bare during the real thing.
The breathe is a good measure to go by when you initially take the plunge, make sure you calm your breathing to a more regulated state before you go out of your depth. If you feel happy to go out of your depth then, go for it.
The recommended time to stay in the water in sub 10 degree temperatures, as a beginner without a wetsuit, is no longer than 5-10 minutes, as you are putting yourself at risk of hypothermia or cold shock syndrome. Once the water warms up and the seasons switch to summer, you can stay in the water for as long as you feel safe to do so.
For extra magic, putting your head under and getting your hair wet, will reap more benefits as our pain receptors and most sensitive nerve endings are in our heads, so let out a big excited scream and get yourself an ice cream head!
WILL IT GET EASIER THE MORE I GO?
The more you to do it the more manageable it will feel. The best advice is to start during the warmer months in your area and then gradually move into the winter. Starting in the coldest months will produce the largest shock factor and it’s much safer to gradually be exposed to the colder temperatures.
Do it often, not just once!
If you get put off by the first time that’s to be expected as it can be pretty unpleasant if you’re new to it, and you will feel like you’ll take forever to warm up again. But don’t be put off, cold showers of 1-2 minutes daily will really help, especially bringing down those cortisol levels.
WILL IT HELP WITH OTHER AREAS OF MY LIFE?
The benefits of taking the plunge aren’t just limited at physical health, our mental health is hugely impacted by time in the water too.
Taking the time for yourself to swim allows the brain to be flooded with alpha brain waves, the ones Buddhist monks report to be present in meditation. Other delicious chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and Oxytocin, our body’s natural feel good painkillers, are released when the body is submerged in temperatures it’s not used too. A big winner!
Practising mindful swimming and using specific breathing techniques teaches the body how to cope in stressful situations, making daily challenges just a little bit easier. By purposely exposing our bodies to uncomfortable, chilly scenarios and putting ourselves in a vulnerable state, it’s almost like a dress rehearsal for the real life! Meaning you can go out and conquer whatever life throws at you!
Humans are pretty cool. If uncomfortable situations happens out in the real world, our bodies and brains are more equipped to adapt to the challenges if we have regularly trained them to so in the water.
Have you ever heard the saying; “Make your bed first thing in the morning and everything else will seem easy.” The art of finding the control to make yourself get into icy waters first thing in the morning is a bit like this. Exercising this command in your life will help you feel more controlled in other areas of a stressful modern day world
Doing something daring every day, will make you feel like the most confident human in any room, superhuman, if you will, and like you’re walking on sunshine.
So to round off that bundle of science, swimming is supersonically functional and will add value to ALL corners of your life, during, and long after you’ve towelled off & warmed up. So whats are you waiting for, get your kit off! Be that person who tried the thing they never thought they’d be able to do!
WHERE ARE THE BEST PLACES TO GO IN THE UK?
There are countless corners where you can take the plunge, but here are a few of our UK’s favourites.
A beautiful gem on the cliffs of Dorset, full horizon views, archways to swim through and countless coves to curl up with a book in after your dip…
White sand beaches, kaleidoscope colourful beach huts, a killer view of the isle of white. Watch out for strong currents and large waves…
Cuckmere Meaners, Brighton
Wander through the meanders, and pick a watery bend that boasts your fancy to immerse yourself in, coupled with chalky cliffs and a chilled beverage in the pub afterwards
The luscious lakes of London! Truly escape the city and get down and dirty with the fish in this freshwater swimming experience. Lots of organised club swims if that’s what you’re into..
Serpentine, Hyde Park
Where cosmopolitans and costumes go hand in hand. A freshwater PAYS (Pay As you Swim) haven in Hyde Park, a swim spot everyone should try at least once!
The Jubilee Pool Penzance
The UK’s largest art deco sea water lido and geothermal heated pool. Take in the views on the poolside terrace. Bathe in natural salt water at an astonishing 30-35 degrees!
Enjoy your wild swimming adventures! 🌊
Be Prepared For Cold Water Swimming With Our Sustainable Wetsuits
At Vivida Lifestyle, it’s our mission to inspire the adventurers of the world to keep doing what they love whilst loving the planet, too. That’s why we’ve developed our range of eco-friendly swimwear. Check it out – there’s something for everyone. Happy swimming!
Indie Bornhoft is a personal trainer and watersports coach, who encourages her clients to make movement their mantra. She has coached every ability in wakeboarding, paddleboarding, SUP fitness, and windsurfing for over ten years, and is highly qualified in all disciplines. Discover more about her drive to just keep moving and be inspired to connect to the raw power of body & spirit through fitness.