Making a splash with healthy living
AS a keen open air swimmer, I was not at all surprised by research just published by Yougov on behalf of Swim England that highlights swimming as a key activity to help mental wellbeing, with over one million people with mental health conditions benefitting from the activity.
Nearly half a million (492,000) British adults with mental health problems who swim say that they have reduced the number of visits to a medical professional regarding their mental health condition as a result.
And swimming has meant over 490,000 people have reduced or no longer take medication for their mental health condition.
Why am I not surprised? Well, for centuries, humans have been taking to the water to improve their bodies and minds, from the mineral rich waters in spas such as our own here in Cheltenham, to bracing cold baths deigned to strength mental constitution and physical state.
Taking the plunge in cold water soothes achey muscles, and can boost the immune system. All wild-dippers know the natural endorphin high that raises your mood, creating an almost addictive urge to dive back in.
And once you are in, whether it’s a pool, lake or the sea, it’s very meditative: the gentle stretching of muscles, and the repetition of strokes, combined with deep breathing, helps to relax and de-stress in a similar way to yoga.
Swimming suits all personalities – the introverts amongst us can snap on goggles and retreat into our own private sensory bubble, while the extroverts can enjoy the company of others and the post-swim hot drink.
There’s a lot of debate about longer term benefits - some believe repeated cold water swimming makes the body adapt in certain ways such as a reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol.
Energy created by keeping warm in cold water may possibly help burn off more fat (we’re all ever optimistic!). Last but not least, you have to leave your smart phone on the side – so you get a mini digital detox too.
Whatever you believe in terms of benefits, the sheer joy of swimming outside, combined with the physical exercise, will invigorate you, make you glow and just make you feel good inside and out.
That’s really what Swim England is saying. That swimming – indeed any exercise – will improve your wellbeing. It gets you out and gets you moving – you are concentrating on something other than problems and worries.
I’m not suggesting everyone starts swimming in the wilds – it’s not always practical and it does start to get a bit chilly around now. If you do fancy it, make sure the spot you choose is safe and that someone knows where you are in case you get into any difficulty. And please check with your GP first that it’s suitable for you.
If it’s not, or you want something a bit warmer, I’d love to see you at our pool at Leisure At, where we are encouraging people to get involved in Swim England’s new #Loveswimming initiative. And if water really isn’t your thing, we have nine free ‘Walking Well’ walks every week, led by trained volunteer leaders.
All you need to do is simply turn up with a sturdy pair of shoes and away you go. I promise you, whatever you decide on to get your heart pumping, you will feel great afterwards.
All wilddippers know the natural endorphin high that raises your mood, creating an almost addictive urge to dive back in.