To some, the shortening days and colder nights spells the end of their swimming season, so let’s have a quick look at some of the reasons why you might like to keep going for as long as possible.
But for starters, does our headline perhaps over-do the gravity of the changing seasons? Well for some it’s no exaggeration that swimming is literally a life-saver. The more I speak to people, and the more it’s on my radar, I’ve come to realise that a significant proportion use swimming as some kind of self-prescribed therapy for underlying mental health issues. Certainly for me, I’ve often joked that it’s one of the few things that keeps me sane in an increasingly stressful existence and I wonder what I’d be like if I didn’t “do sport”. Little comments dropped into conversations here and there confirm this belief, not to mention TV items detailing patients replacing long-term medication with dips in the open water, reaffirm there is something amazing going on here that might be worth further examination? See here for a recent example http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3785796/How-swimming-cold-water-helped-depressed-woman-pills-TV-doctor-reveals-cases-drugs-don-t-work.html
But with open water swimming we have other dimensions to add, as well as the well-understood endorphin effect of regular exercise. As already mentioned, the simple act of immersing yourself in cold water seems to give people a boost. I’m also a firm believer in the old saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I’m fairly happy to believe that regular immersion in non-chlorinated waters gives my immune system a bit of a boost. If I can swim in the (to be fair, ever-cleaner) Thames, just think how robust my bodily defences must be – not at all scientific I grant you, but I know lots of others who agree.
The downside of course is the problems associated with cold water and ears – both infections and the potentially more pernicious surfers ear see; see this link for details https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surfer%27s_ear It’s about time we spoke more widely about this and encouraged people to wear ear plugs, especially in the cold, which seems to be the real danger area.
And let’s not forget the safety angle here – let’s all keep plugging away with the safety message. Strange things happen to the body when you get cold, so don’t put yourself and others at risk by doing something silly. There are plenty of groups you can join who are still safely out there, and will carry on through the winter and out the other side. And normally in skins!
Plenty of research has been conducted on cold water immersion, so none of this should be a surprise, but it’s still sensible to build up slowly, making this time of year perfect for a slow progression into “properly” cold water.
Tom Kean is an avid open water swimmer, co-founder of the Henley Swim & Director of Thameside Financial Planning