September 16, 2021

The Benefits of Open Water Swimming

One activity that rose in prominence and popularity over the past year - which is by no means a new pastime - is outdoor swimming, or wild swimming.

Exhilarating, energising and at times, extreme, wild swimming sees people put their stamina to the test, braving cold temperatures and the open water. The reward for such perseverance? An endorphin boost that’s pretty unmatchable, a rush of adrenaline, and a shift of perspective that has helped many get through this turbulent year.

With lockdown restrictions prohibiting gym and indoor exercise, and one of the few safe and healthy activities being time outdoors, it’s no surprise that Brits have spent more time walking in nature or enjoying what the planet has to offer on our doorsteps, more than ever before!

In this article, we take a deep dive into the outdoors sport’s benefits, answer some of the most frequently asked questions around this activity, and reveal the best places in the UK to give it a go.



What is wild swimming? 

Wild swimming refers to the sport of swimming, undertaken in natural, outdoor bodies of water such as an open water lake, river, or the sea, as opposed to man-made indoor swimming pools. Wild swimming can involve colder temperatures, sharing space with wild animals or creatures, and more hazards than swimming in a swimming pool, for example. However there are many noted benefits of open water swimming, and nowadays, there are hundreds of open water swimming societies up and down the country.


Why do people go wild swimming?

People participate in wild swimming for various reasons. Those who enjoy wild swimming have found that it lifts your mood, notably alleviating feelings of anxiety or depression. The intensely cold water and sense of being ‘at one’ with nature are refreshing for both the mind and body. Many wild swimmers return to the waters for these reasons, as well as the strong sense of community it can bring.

Wild swimming is known for its strong community feel, with many groups and societies around the UK offering opportunities for beginners to get into wild swimming. Being part of a larger group has other benefits aside from togetherness; it can be safer to be part of an outdoor swimming society, who will be familiar with the safer times to swim. It will also mean you never swim alone, should there be an issue and you get into difficulties in the water.


Four benefits of wild swimming 

Absolutely Bear’s ethos is all about spending as much time outdoors and in nature as possible. We want to reconnect those in urban settings with nature, and outdoors swimming is just one of the great ways to do this; even in big, built-up cities like London, outdoor swimming opportunities are in abundance.


Nick Fletcher, our founder, has shared four of the key benefits of wild swimming:

#1 - It’s a better choice for the planet and environment

Traditional, man-made swimming pools are not particularly environmentally friendly. Wild swimming is far more eco-friendly, as you are embracing nature and making no change to the environment you are swimming in. Wild swimmers are considerate of the places to swim and work hard to ensure they leave swimming sites exactly as they find them. Indoor pools also contain a lot of chemicals like chlorine and bromide to keep the water clean, which can not only irritate our skin and lungs in the long-term, it also has to be flushed away regularly.


#2 - You can take in the scenery and better connect with nature

Swimming pools often have clocks, seating and sterile settings. Swimming with distant greenery, woodlands, or natural views will feel not only more rewarding and motivating during the swim, but it’s a grounding experience to realise you are part of the natural ecosystem and feel connected as a human to the planet around you.


#3 - It can be done with a friend or as a group

Taking part in exercise has proven mental and physical health benefits. Swimming is a superb aerobic activity to help with joints, general health and movement. Wild swimming - due to the safety and unusuality of it - is generally done as part of a group. Exercise and socialising in one is a win-win situation for the human brain and endorphins!


#4 - The colder, natural water is good for breathing, and in turn stress levels

 Exercising outdoors with natural views offers a sense of wellbeing, and the process of adapting to the cold water is recognised as a treatment for depression. This is caused by the rush of endorphins (the happy hormone) that any form of exercise causes. Add to this, the shock in temperature change, and open water swimming offers a rush like to no other.

This is because the body’s physical response to swimming in the cold water triggers a stress response. Immersing your body into cold water in this way kicks in ‘fight or flight’ mode. This shock response, when repeated, sees your body learn to adapt. Thus, over time, your shock response to stress is lessened, allowing people to manage their everyday stresses far more effectively.




Best places for outdoor swimming in the UK?

If you’re still with us at this point, chances are the thought of outdoor swimming has intrigued you and you’re considering taking a dip in a natural pool! So where is best to go in the UK?

We’ve identified the best lakes and water spots around the UK to give this increasingly popular sport a go:

1. Capernway Diving Centre

- Over Kellet, Lancashire, England

- Great for all day swimming.


  2. Coniston Water

- Cumbria, Lake District

- Great if you want to do a long distance swim.


3. Shepperton Open Water Swim

- Ferry Lane, Shepperton

- Here you can experience a leisurely swim, or take part in competitive races.


4. London’s Royal Docks

- Newham, East London

- Great place to connect with nature, even in the capital.


5. Whitesands Beach

- Pembrokeshire, Wales

- With lifeguards on duty and cafes nearby, this is a great place for a family day out.


6. Pennington Flash

- Leigh, England

- Location for Ironman UK!


7. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

- Scotland

- Known for its beautiful views.


8. Tenby North & Tenby South

- Pembrokeshire, Wales

- Perfect to ensure you get the most of your day; you can walk along the coastline and visit different beaches!


9. Kirby Cross

- Essex

- With a sandy beach, it’s the perfect day out.


10. Skye’s Faerie Pools

- Scotland

- A beautiful location, known for its quartz covered rock face.



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The Benefits of Open Water Swimming

One activity that rose in prominence and popularity over the past year - which is by no means a new pastime - is outdoor swimming, or wild swimming.Exhilarating, energising and at times, extreme, wild swimming sees people put their stamina...