deep blue ocean

cold-ocean swim­ming has a whole lot of ben­e­fits

Weight Watchers Magazine (Australia) - - Contents -

Avisit to the beach has long been hailed as the rem­edy for what­ever ails you – and not just the way we think of it now, as a re­lax­ing way to book­end the year and send off smug Instagram pics with hash­tags like #sun­surf­savblanc.

Dips in the ocean have ac­tu­ally been pre­scribed for cen­turies, for all sorts of health com­plaints. From the 18th cen­tury, there was a pre­vail­ing be­lief among doc­tors that get­ting into cold, salty ocean wa­ter was good for the mind as well as phys­i­cal health – in­deed, in 1783, the fu­ture king of Eng­land, Ge­orge IV, was sent to bathe in the sea in Brighton to help cure his gout.

Nowa­days, it’s best to see a GP for your gout, but when it comes to boosting your men­tal and phys­i­cal health, cold ocean swim­ming is hard to beat. While it’s been a na­tional pas­time in Euro­pean coun­tries such as Rus­sia, Nor­way, Fin­land, Swe­den and Den­mark for cen­turies (where a dip in the deep blue is usu­ally fol­lowed by a ses­sion in the sauna), com­pet­i­tive cold ocean swim­ming is also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a surge in pop­u­lar­ity, with 1275 par­tic­i­pants in last year’s Win­ter World Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships (up from 790 in 2010).

There might not be any­thing you feel less like do­ing in win­ter than putting on your togs and div­ing into freez­ing wa­ter, but trust us: it’s se­ri­ously good for you. >


Greg Parr, who has been a mem­ber of renowned cold ocean swim club Bondi Ice­bergs in Syd­ney for five years – where there is only one rule: no wet­suits! – says he swims in the ocean “not to lose weight, but to lose my­self”.

“Swim­ming en­er­gises you in a way that other ex­er­cise doesn’t,” he says. “I don’t know what it is ex­actly, but swim­ming seems to give you this adren­a­line rush and en­ergy boost that’s dif­fer­ent. You don’t feel drained when you’ve fin­ished a swim; you feel ready to take on the world.”

Re­search backs up Parr’s feel­ings about the ocean. The way we breathe when swim­ming stim­u­lates the parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem (which con­trols or­gan and brain func­tion), ef­fec­tively calm­ing the brain. There’s also ev­i­dence to show that bathing or swim­ming in cold wa­ter re­duces the lev­els of cor­ti­sol, a stress hor­mone, in our sys­tems. And low­er­ing our brain tem­per­a­tures, through ac­tiv­i­ties such as cold wa­ter swim­ming, is known to have neu­ro­pro­tec­tive and ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects, which can re­lieve in­flam­ma­tion. This


is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause high lev­els of brain in­flam­ma­tion are linked to de­pres­sion.

It’s a sen­ti­ment echoed by Weight Watch­ers mem­ber Melissa Mal­ady, from Car­rum Downs in Vic­to­ria, who started swim­ming again when she joined Weight Watch­ers in 2014. “As a child, I lived near the beach and learned to swim in the ocean. I had asthma and my par­ents en­cour­aged me to swim, but I was a bigger build than the other girls and I didn’t want to wear my togs in front of them.”

Mal­ady stopped swim­ming reg­u­larly, only get­ting into the pool dur­ing school carnival time, when she would fre­quently take out first place. It wasn’t un­til she began her jour­ney with Weight Watch­ers a few years ago that she de­cided to give ocean swim­ming another go. “It was time,” she says. “I began to swim ev­ery day, just com­pet­ing against my­self to see how much fur­ther I could go ev­ery time.” Even­tu­ally, she was clock­ing 3.5km in the wa­ter ev­ery sin­gle day.

Nowa­days, as a sin­gle mum who lives half an hour’s drive from the beach, she only makes it to the wa­ter once a fort­night, but she jumps at the chance. “I love the way I feel af­ter a swim,” she says. “It’s not just about keep­ing fit – it’s men­tally calm­ing and such a con­fi­dence boost.”

While Mal­ady wears a wet­suit (and rec­om­mends a good-fit­ting swim cap and gog­gles), she says any­one can get out there. “As long as you can use a kick­board in a pool, I say you can swim con­fi­dently any­where,” she says. “Stay be­tween the flags, know the beach you’re vis­it­ing and only swim when the waves are calm.”

For Mal­ady, ocean swim­ming – even in win­ter – has opened up a whole new world. “Just go for it,” she urges. “You’ll be amazed by the con­fi­dence it cre­ates, and the sense of achieve­ment you’ll have when you’re done.”


Swim­ming is a fan­tas­tic car­dio­vas­cu­lar work­out, of course, but the ben­e­fits of ocean swim­ming in win­ter go far beyond get­ting your heart pump­ing and your sweat ses­sion on.

A study has found reg­u­lar ex­po­sure to cold wa­ter (at 14°C, for at least an hour at a time, three times a week for six weeks) may boost the im­mune sys­tem and in­crease the me­tab­o­lism. A Fin­nish study of win­ter swim­mers found af­ter four months of swim­ming in cold wa­ter, the swim­mers felt more ac­tive and en­er­getic than the con­trol sub­jects. They also found re­lief from rheuma­tism, fi­bromyal­gia and asthma.

And if you thought swim­ming in freez­ing wa­ter might up your chances of catch­ing a lurgy, ocean swim­ming can ac­tu­ally de­crease the sever­ity and in­ci­dence of colds.

“Swim­ming is some­thing al­most any­one can do,” says Parr. “We have peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, we have older swim­mers, young swim­mers, swim­mers of all shapes and sizes. Once you’re out in the wa­ter, none of that mat­ters. We’re all fight­ing the same el­e­ments, we’re all ex­posed – quite lit­er­ally! That’s a re­ally beau­ti­ful thing.” #

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