GOOGLE data has revealed online searches for ‘wild swimming’ have increased 100% during the UK’s hottest summer on record.
As temperatures soared across Europe, Clarin’s Beauty Daily explored the growing interest in wild swimming. Defined as swimming in any of nature’s waters – such as a lake, river, estuary or sea – findings reveal that ‘wild swimming’ searches have increased massively.
According to Simon Griffiths, author of ‘Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 Days’, a survey of 4,500 swimmers conducted at Outdoor Swimmer last year, that one in five people said they’d started outdoor swimming in the previous 12 months.
While recent heatwaves account for some of the surges, 21.5% of those surveyed said they started wild swimming in the last year because pools were closed during the pandemic.
In addition to cooling down, swimming outdoors in nature also provides multiple health benefits. According to research, wild swimming increases blood flow, strengthens your immune system (having an anti-inflammatory effect), and increases endorphins, adrenaline, and serotonin production which reduces stress.
The most significant change Simon Griffiths has seen is the number of people who say they started for mental health benefits, with more than 20% of those who began this year citing this as the key reason.
“We know that cold water immersion causes a surge in hormones, including dopamine, serotonin and beta-endorphins,” he explained.
“These, in turn, are associated with an improved mood. There’s also the idea that regular exposure to the controlled stress of cold-water swimming trains us to handle stress better. Becoming a wild swimmer could therefore help you build resilience.
“In addition, wild swimming for many people is a social activity that often ends with a coffee and a chat, and we know that social connections are important for our wellbeing.”
How to assess the water quality
Knowing which bodies of water to swim in is important, to prevent exposure to harmful toxins or chemicals. If you Google ‘Swimfo‘ you will have access to Environment Agency information that will show you areas of safe water quality.
The agency states: “The Environment Agency assesses water quality at designated bathing water sites in England. From May to September, weekly assessments measure current water quality, and daily pollution risk forecasts are issued at several places. Annual ratings classify each site as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on measurements taken for four years.”
However, they mainly monitor beach locations instead of smaller rivers and ponds.
“Good places to start are lifeguarded beaches and supervised outdoor swimming venues,” explains Griffiths.
“As you know, the conditions will have been checked, and assistance will be on hand if you need help. Also, look where other people swim. There are many swimming groups on social media, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one near you.
“But even if other people are swimming, you still need to assess your risk based on your experience and capabilities.”
How to enjoy wild swimming for the first time
Taking the first tentative steps can be daunting, but Griffiths suggests taking it slowly to gain confidence and experience.
“Don’t just jump into cold water! This is especially important to first-timers who won’t have acclimatised,” he adds.
“When our bodies hit the cold water, it triggers the cold water shock response, which causes a sharp intake of breath. This is potentially fatal if your face is in the water.
“The cold water shock response lasts about one to two minutes. The best way to get into cold water is, therefore, purposefully but not suddenly, and stay within your depth and with your head above water until your breathing is under control. You can swim safely in cold water, but you do need to be careful. Also, until you’ve gained some experience, keep your swims short.”