orange hat ladies; sea swimming; wild swimming; karen mead; illustration; women swimming

The Feel Good Factor (in Frumpy Patterns)

“Oooh, I read that it’s meant to be really good for your mental health” says another passer by, wrapped up in scarf, hat, gloves and an arctic goose feather puffa jacket, as we stand in loudly patterned swimsuit, gloves, booties and of course, loud, orange flowery hats. As they say… beach ready!

(As an aside – I simply don’t understand why we all agree to wearing the gaudy patterns found on swimsuits with banal acceptance. In no other area of our lives do we wear either broad painterly daubs of colours or cartoon sharks in public. I’m not sure what I want my swimsuit to say about me but its neither outdated older woman nor middle aged woman in cartoon finery. Anyway…)

The walkers nearly always go on to ask “Is it cold?”

“No it’s actually a balmy (or barmy) 5C at the moment” we say with a wry smile, “and yes, it is meant to be a very positive thing to do”

“Oh I bet you feel great don’t you?”

To which we often respond that we do feel great, but that it’s probably due to the fact that we are now out of the very cold salty water! 

orange hat ladies; sea swimming; wild swimming; karen mead; illustration; women swimming
The feel good factor in orange hats (Karen Mead)

Joking aside, it does make you feel great, euphoric even. I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a day that I didn’t feel good after getting out of the sea. That isn’t to say that some days I have been incredibly tempted not to go in in the first place – which is where swimming with a friend can really help. The days that you wonder why on earth you’re doing this, when it feels as though it’s a huge effort, when you just can’t be bothered, you go swimming because you don’t want to let down your friend. You go because it’s ‘what we do’. You go because you know you’ll end up laughing about something.

There is a huge amount written about the benefits of cold-water swimming. This has been well documented even in the mainstream news, which is significantly positive. Fundamentally, wild cold water swimming is an activity that costs nothing (although you soon start wanting more kit and caboodle that you hadn’t previously realised even existed) and can be undertaken by all abilities to some degree. You don’t even need to strip off at the beach either – it is thought that cold showers in the ‘comfort’ of your own home are enough to stimulate the body and support well being.

You don’t have to go swimming all year round – it’s not a competition to see who can be the coldest. The important thing is to tune in to your physical self and go at your own pace. Listen to your body and don’t stay in the water for too long. We have made a point of not going to the ‘extra post’ when the water is cold – swimming with someone else helps stop the ‘just a bit further’ attitude that can mean you stay in too long.

There are GP practices and psychologists who are prescribing sea swimming and cold-water swimming as part of a healthy life style and a support for improved mental health. We’ll write more in future blogs, but if you’d like a gentle introduction to start to think about the concept check out this short clip from Dr Chris van Tulleken in BBC’s The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs

A summary of his subsequent published report in collaboration with Dr Mark Harper can be found here and on British Medical Journal website.

Many seem to agree (albeit some wrapped up and from the comfort of the shore) the cold-water feel-good factor is worth a plunge.

The Dr Who Gave Up Drugs swimming
Swimming to improve mental health – Dr Chris van Tulleken & swimmer Sarah (BBC)

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