Winter Wild Swimming for Mental Health: The Top 10 Benefits

Winter Wild Swimming for Mental Health: The Top 10 Benefits

How’s your mental health? If you have trouble answering that question, know that you’re not alone—it’s estimated that one in six people suffer from mental health issues every year in the United Kingdom, and one in four people struggle with depression at some point during their lifetime.

Even if you're not struggling, it's important to keep our minds healthy. Wild swimming, or open water swimming, is one of the best activities you can do to keep your mental health in check, especially during the colder months of winter.

Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits of wild swimming to make the most out of your next swim, or encourage you to take the plunge if you haven't already.

1) It boosts happiness

Cold water can help to boost happiness. One of the many benefits of wild swimming is that it's exactly that: wild and freeing, helping us to boost happiness by participating in this natural outdoor activity. Though swimming in cold water may seem intimidating at first, it's important to know that you'll quickly acclimate to the temperature and find a sense of calmness and self-acceptance.

2) Reduces anxiety

Anxiety is debilitating and can trigger stress responses. Cold water calms that fight or flight response and boosts endorphins, making you feel more confident. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and helps make your body's stress response more robust. You can also use wild swimming to create mindfulness opportunities by taking time away from your own thoughts and focusing on the sounds around you.

3) Builds resilience

Perceived stress placed on our bodies in cold water makes us more resilient and able to cope with everyday stress. In the winter, when our natural response is to retreat indoors and avoid the cold, we can take advantage of the low temperatures outdoors. Cold water immersion has been shown to stimulate our body's natural anti-inflammatory response; this is one of the many ways that it provides ecotherapy. Cold water swimming gives us a break from thoughts of our own and creates mindfulness opportunities while also providing physical benefits.

4) Reduces stress

Cold water swimming is a great way to reduce stress. Over time your body is able to disassociate with lower level stressors, so one exposure to cold water swimming will have the same effect as several regular swims.

Swimming outdoors in cold water or an icy river or lake helps the body release endorphins, the hormone associated with our happy hormones. Cold water immersion also releases endorphins, and anti-inflammatory properties like cortisol and serotonin (neurotransmitters that promote relaxation). These benefits have been found to make the human stress response more robust.

A woman wearing a swimsuit cold water swimming in a waterfall.

5) Improves sleep quality

Increased physical activity, especially if your swim includes a walk helps to aid sleep. Cold water immersion activates brown fat, which helps us burn calories and stay warm, further tiring the body for a more natural sleep. It's been shown that cold water swimming increases an enzyme called telomerase, which is responsible for cell regeneration so we get double the benefit for one swim!

If you are feeling stressed out or have trouble getting enough physical activity in your day to day life, then it's worth giving wild swimming a try.

6) Brings you closer to nature

The benefits of connecting with nature through wild swimming are twofold. Firstly, being exposed to nature. Forest bathing (the ancient Japanese process of relaxation, a simple method of being calm and quiet amongst the trees and observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply to relax your mind) or ocean bathing (a similar concept derived by my experience of listening to the sounds of the waves) is a great way to boost your mood, make you feel more relaxed, and stimulate your senses. Secondly, cold water immersion provides an exhilarating experience that boosts endorphins from being present in the moment and seeing or hearing something magical whilst you swim.

7) Can make you fitter, stronger and healthier

What are the physical health benefits of wild swimming?
Cold water has been found to be particularly effective for muscle stiffness caused by overuse or aging as it causes our body to release more endorphins and create new collagen cells, making your body's stress response more robust.
How about ecotherapy? Cold water helps reduce inflammation and increase cell regeneration, aiding physical health. It also activates brown fat, the healthy fat within our body which in turn burns white fat.

8) Creates opportunities to connect with others (social therapy)

The physical benefits of wild swimming are widely recognized, but the mental health benefits are less well-known and something I am passionate about sharing. Outdoor swimming provides a unique social opportunity, since it can be difficult to find people to swim with in the colder months. It also creates mindfulness opportunities by taking you away from your own thoughts and into the present moment by chatting with different people.

It’s important to keep swimming throughout the colder months, since many people are less active in winter, creating a mental health risk. Outdoor swimming creates an opportunity for meaningful connections and collaboration in addition to boosting your mental health. In a society where so many of us struggle with poor mental health, we don’t always think about how exercise can help balance our emotional well-being.

Plus, there's nothing that bonds people like dipping into the cold water, turning the air blue and struggling to get dressed in a dignified manner after!

9) Boosts body positivity

Wild swimming is a great way to boost your body positivity. Being in the water and being able to see other normal human bodies of all shapes and sizes helps regulate mental health. It lets us see that all bodies are different. Our bodies do this amazing thing called wild swimming, and it makes our minds feel more at ease with how we look and what we are capable of. As someone who is a curvy swimmer, I have never felt more comfortable in my own skin, than when I am swimming.

10) Creates more opportunities to experience new things

Wild swimming is a great way to get out in nature when it might not always be so easy or convenient due to work or family commitments. It allows us time away from normal life to seek out beautiful corners of the world around us to immerse ourselves in.

It pushes us to explore places we would never consider outside of wild swimming: sea caves, different beaches, new lakes, getting into rivers. Places that seem inaccessible but are actually right there for us to explore and enjoy. Connecting with the wildlife that share these incredible places with us and being in awe of the natural wonders that are so easily missed in everyday life.

It's an amazing thing to be immersed in cold water and be connected with the world around you while appreciating the beauty of nature - everything from sunrises on crisp winter mornings, sitting around campfires during cool summer nights, to walking barefoot through sand on warm summer days.

Just go for it!

With winter officially here, now is the perfect time to take a dip in cold water. Whether you're doing some outdoor swimming or just taking a cold water dip, you'll get benefits for your mental and physical health.

If you've never been swimming in cold water before, or it's been a while, that's okay. There are plenty of cold water swimming tips to get you started. Even just one dip can benefit your mind and body and make a positive impact on your life.

Whether it's sea swimming, lake swimming, river swimming or any other swimming or dipping in between, there are many ways in which our mind, body and soul can reap the rewards from indulging in some winter dips.

Check out our top tips on winter swimming to stay safe this winter and better yet, find a local Bluetits group to start your swimming journey with the experience and help of others. Don't forget to wrap up warm post-swim!

You can do it!


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