The physical benefits of open water swimming are well known, but it can also be a great boost to our mental health as well. Many people have described the elation that the shock of splashing around in icy water brings them, and now this anecdotal evidence is backed up by science.
The BBC’s Science Focus reports that a study by scientists at the University of Portsmouth examined the reactions of people who were suddenly immersed in tanks of cold water. Professor Mike Tipton, who led the study, found that reactions happened in two distinct stages.
The first stage is known as ‘cold water shock.’ This is what happens to the body when it first hits the cold water—you give an involuntary gasp, your heart pumps faster, and adrenaline levels surge. The stress hormone cortisol is released, along with a surge of beta-endorphins, which help to block pain and allow your body to power on through a stressful situation.
These are the pleasure hormones responsible for the sense of elation and euphoria that open water swimmers describe, and may be why so many people say that the sport helps them to manage anxiety and depression.
The second stage is what the scientists call adaptation, where the body becomes more used to cold water shock, and the response is less dramatic. What is interesting and relevant to people who suffer from depression and anxiety is that the researchers found that the cold water shock caused something called ‘cross adaptation.’
This is where the body becomes better adapted to other kinds of stress, including that with a psychological cause. Scientists believe that this may partly be because lower levels of stress mean that inflammation in the body is lower, as high inflation is associated with a higher risk of depression.
If that’s not enough to convince you, then the feeling of being close to nature can also help to boost our mood and sense of wellbeing. Many people also enjoy being part of the friendly open water swimming community.
What kit do you need for open water swimming?
If you feel inspired by the thought of a bracing dip in a river or the sea, it’s important to do some preparation so that you stay safe during your swim. Open water is cold even in summer, and much colder in winter—a whole world away from the experience of swimming in an indoor pool.
Therefore, it’s important to have the right kit. It is recommended that you wear a wetsuit, even in summer. They not only help to keep you warmer, but it will also improve your buoyancy. Well-fitting goggles are essential to protect your eyes and keep your vision clear.
A silicone cap in a bright colour is also recommended, not only to keep your head warm but also to make you more visible in the water. Many people also wear thermal socks, boots, and gloves to keep their extremities warm.
If you are looking for a Zoggs thermal swimsuit, please get in touch today.