Cold-water swimmers say they suffer less illness, are better able to deal with stress and enjoy a boost in wellbeing with every icy dip. Breathe takes the plunge.
Do not try cold-water swimming if you have respiratory, heart or blood pressure problems, are pregnant or unfit. Even if you are healthy, it’s advisable to seek your doctor’s advice first.
Acclimatising is essential. The best way is to start cold swimming in the summer and then to carry on as the temperature drops. If you’re keen to start before, do so in a lido and either join a club, or go with a friend. Your first few dips should be for no more than three minutes. Control your entry into the water, hold onto the side of the pool and don’t immerse your shoulders or start swimming until your breathing is under control. Keep your head above water, and breathe slowly and calmly as you swim.
Do your prep before you go cold swimming. Find somewhere with a nearby car park and a changing room and try to swim with others – for safety and camaraderie.
You need to be visible, so wear a brightly coloured swim hat. Wearing two, or a thicker silicon one, can help to preserve body heat.
Always swim parallel to the shore, not away from it, and know your limitations. Swim to shore immediately if you slow down or if your hands start feeling stiff.
Your body temperature will continue to drop after you get out of the water, reaching its coldest 10 minutes post-swim, so dress immediately. You may need extra layers, so wrap up in thermal underwear, merino wool tops, hat and gloves and a jacket. Again, be prepared. Experienced swimmers recommend folding and piling your clothes in the order you will be putting them back on for expediency. Don’t take a hot shower: warming your body gradually, by putting on more clothes and having a warm drink is safer.
If you find the regularity of your swims tailing off, keep your body conditioned to low temperatures by taking cold showers or baths.
Where to try cold-water swimming
Islanders have been swimming at La Vallette’s 19th-century bathing pools in Guernsey for more than 150 years. Recently renovated, the salt-water pools have views over Herm and Sark and are ideal for novice cold-water swimmers.
Public interest in open-air swimming has boomed over recent years and there are some beautiful lidos in which to practise before you try rivers and lakes. Among the best are Jubilee Pool, Penzance; Saltdean, Brighton; Brockwell in London and Aberdeen’s heated Stonehaven Pool. All are art deco masterpieces. Many close over winter, so check before you go.
If you are ready to swim in nature, there are dozens of websites that will help you find the most suitable wild water for your abilities – outdoorswimmingsociety.com and wildswimming.co.uk are both excellent. Popular spots include Wood Bay rock pool, Exmoor; Grantchester Meadows, Cambridge; Lady Falls, Brecon Beacons; Brighton’s beach; and the Golwern quarry, Snowdonia.
Words: Xenia Taliotis
Illustrations: Stephanie Hofmann
This article is an extract from Issue 11 of Breathe magazine. Buy select back issues here. Buy Issue 11 digital edition here.