Following on from her first post, Cold water has changed my life, Annike Surry describes her ongoing journey – the evolution she has made from cold water dipper to open water swimmer, and the life-changing benefits, mental and physical, that continue to have a positive impact on her health.
You may think that swimming in cold water is one of the last things you would dream of doing and you may question the sanity of those who decide to take an open-water swim in the coldest months of the year.
Some of you may have read my post from March last year, on how cold water has changed my life and been a great building block for my health and wellbeing.
Since my last post, I have progressed and continued my cold-water journey from cold water dips to swimming in open water all year. I’m not and have never been and will never be a great swimmer, but having said yes to join the Oxford Mile last year and also joining another challenge, to swim one mile in open water to raise awareness about plastic in our oceans, I had to learn to swim well enough to be able to complete both challenges.
I booked myself on to an open water swim course where I had about seven lessons last summer. I learned a fair bit, but I still couldn’t get the hang of the technique of crawl and how to breathe properly. So I started looking at YouTube and Instagram videos. I got some good tips and ideas but I needed more practice. At the end of August last year, I did a one-mile swim to raise awareness about plastic in our oceans. It took just over an hour and I was exhausted, but I did it! Unfortunately, the Oxford mile was cancelled due to Covid, and again this year, but I believe in third time lucky – I’ll be there next year and that will give me a little more time to practice my crawl technique.
In January this year, I signed myself up for an open water swim club where they swim with and without wetsuits. My first swim was awesome. It was an evening swim in the dark on the 12th of January. We had lights in our tow floats for visibility, the air temp was 2°C and water temp 3.5°C.
On my first swim, I swam 300m in 10 minutes, wearing a bikini, a brightly-coloured swim hat and goggles. Woooohoooo! I got such a kick out of it – I was flying high afterwards! I sang all the way home in the car, the adrenaline and endorphins rushing through my body. I was hooked.
Later, I found out that swimming in cold water improves your circulation and burns more calories as your body is working harder to keep warm, and when you combine the cold water with a swim workout the calorie burn will increase dramatically. It also sparks your body into producing tons of endorphins so you get happy-happy-happy!
And that’s what I feel every time I go open water swimming, especially in the winter months – it improves mood and helps tackle stress and anxiety. It’s not just the ice-cold shock to the system I enjoy. I also really enjoy the beautiful surroundings, the peace and quiet at the beach early in the morning, and swimming at sunrise is absolutely stunning. It’s beyond words.
Open water swimming gives me peace of mind in a hectic everyday life to an even greater degree than just dipping in the sea. Setting time aside to enjoy nature and swimming has proven to be the best thing for me. It reduces stress, gives quality time for me, and reduces the risk of developing depression and mental illness. Best of all, it helps my multiple sclerosis. It’s a great pain relief.
In addition, the effects of cold water on the immune system have been proven to help boost the white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to changing conditions and over time, your body becomes better at activating its defences, which also helps to produce antioxidants. This is proven to boost your immune system and the body’s healing mechanisms to fight some chronic and inflammatory diseases, as well as aches and pains.
Open water swimming is not just a super workout, and good for your immune system, it has lots of other benefits. Jumping into cold water flushes your veins. The extreme change in temperature signals to our heart to pump our blood to our organs and as a result, our circulation is improved and toxins are flushed out of our system, replenishing the body with oxygen and nutrients. It also trains your body to adapt to harsh weather conditions during open water swimming. The cold makes breathing harder, forcing your body to utilise the little oxygen you can get in, and making the body better at adapting to stressful situations.
The sea contains trace minerals which are essential minerals for the human body. They’re crucial to our health and development. Even the salty ocean air lifts your spirits. The salty air, which holds a host of negative ions, can boost your serotonin levels, making you happier. Therefore, the benefits of going to the beach not only affect your physical but also your mental health, even on rainy days.
The joys of wild swimming are immense and the sense of relaxation when floating in the water, the freedom, the feeling of being at one with nature, building muscle and clear your head combined with the immune benefits of the sea water and with those of cold-water swimming – it’s a pretty good recipe for a way to stay fit and healthy, physically and mentally.
I can’t think of any better reason to get started with some ice age inspired workouts at your local outdoor spots.