The closure of local indoor swimming pools during the lockdown has seen a huge growth in the popularity of outdoor swimming
When the country went into lockdown back in March 2020, so did our local swimming pools and as a result many more people took to wild swimming outdoors. The Outdoor Swimming Society says numbers taking part in the activity grew by around three times.
While many people are lucky to live close to the coast or near rivers and lakes, it’s not so easy to find an open water spot in the centre of Birmingham. Outdoor swimming has proven to be a lifeline for many during the pandemic, with two-thirds of outdoor swimmers saying the activity has been essential to maintaining their mental well-being, according to Outdoor Swimmer magazine’s Trends in Outdoor Swimming report.
The benefits on our physical health of swimming are well-recognised. Three, 30-minute swims a week together with a healthy diet is one of the best ways to stay fit and well. Swimming uses all the muscles in the body so it’s a great total workout. And as a great form of cardiovascular exercise, swimming helps guard against heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It’s especially good for those recovering from long-term injury as the water supports up to 90 per cent of the body’s weight.
However, an increasing number of studies are showing the positive effects of outdoor swimming on our mental well-being. When you’re swimming outdoors you certainly have no choice but to be in the moment. All the deadlines and anxieties float away as you focus on the water and your swimming stroke. Attention is paid to your breathing, the feeling of water on your skin and the natural world around you. It all helps to disconnect us from the stress of our busy lives.
Swimming outdoors is also shown to boost energy levels while at the same time stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which promotes feelings of relaxation and helps deliver a better night’s sleep. In 2013, marine biologist Dr Wallace J Nichols, author of the best-selling book Blue Mind, explored how being near, on or in water can reduce stress levels, make you happier, more creative and more connected.
This Blue Mind theory, now an emerging form of mindfulness, has been backed up by work undertaken by neuroscientists. It seems that water can ignite a dopamine hit, creating a positive feeling every time we’re in or around it.
Here’s some of the benefits of swimming:
Increased Muscle Tone and Strength – As water is much denser than air, swimming is a far more effective way of toning your muscles than any other form of cardiovascular exercise. When you swim you get the cardio part of your workout while also working on an even body tone. Water provides a certain amount of extra resistance, which has a similar effect as using a light weight on a resistance machine at the gym.
Healthy heart – As an aerobic exercise, swimming strengthens the heart, not only helping it to become larger, but making it more efficient in pumping, which leads to better blood flow throughout your body. This can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by as much as 40 per cent.
Reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels – Studies show that swimming for 30 minutes at least three times a week can significantly lower your blood pressure. One study found that resting heart rate was considerably lowered after only 10 weeks of regular swimming. Plus, swimming for half-an-hour or longer helps reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood while raising the levels of good cholesterol.
Lower blood sugar levels – Swimming for at least half-an-hour three to four times a week, combined with eating a balanced low glycaemic index diet, has been shown to control blood sugar levels, according to the Amateur Swimming Association.
Low impact – The human body automatically becomes lighter in water with around 90 per cent of your body’s weight being buoyant. So, when you swim there is less strain placed on bones, joints and muscles. This makes it a fantastic exercise for people with injuries, who may be overweight or suffer from arthritis.
Flexibility – Unlike exercise machines in a gym that tend to isolate one body part at a time, swimming allows you to use a lot of muscles at the same time.
Helps manage weight – Swimming breaststroke for 30 minutes will burn approximately 400Kcal, depending on your weight and speed. That beats walking, cycling and even running at 6mph, which burns 300Kcal.
Better sleep – People who take vigorous exercise, such as swimming, are nearly twice as likely as non-exercisers to have a good night’s sleep.