Ditching the pool in favour of a local river, lake, or the sea has become a favourite pastime for many, as wild swimming has seen a boom in popularity. Whether as part of an organised event or a casual dip, wild swimming is for everyone. Abandoning the wetsuit and bracing the chill is also popular amongst wild swimmers as it comes with a whole host of potential benefits. Beyond the exhilaration of that first dunk under cold water, research has found that it can positively affect both our physical and our mental health. For example, one study found that cold water exposure can lead to a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, whilst elevating both dopamine and serotonin . Additionally, researchers have found a potential link between cold water and an anti-depressive effect, with exposure effectively reducing depressive symptoms . On top of these remarkable mental benefits, it has also been shown to reduce both your heart rate and blood pressure .
If the health benefits are not enough to tempt you into the cold, then wild swimming is also a wonderful way to reconnect with nature, providing the opportunity to find peaceful spots away from the hustle and bustle. Of course, it is also an excellent form of exercise and can be done as part of a group or individually, making it a truly adaptable and personal activity.
Convinced to give it a try? There are a few things that need to be considered when choosing a spot and getting involved, to ensure that it is done in a way that protects both nature and us.
Firstly, we need clean waterways! This is vital for ecosystems and our own health. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, with sewage in our rivers and seas becoming an ever more pressing issue. Thankfully, you can make use of The Rivers Trust sewage map to ensure that you are swimming in area that is safe to do so, as well as find ways to help combat this issue (https://theriverstrust.org/sewage-map).
Secondly, we must take care not to spread any invasive species. This can be tricky, as they are often stubborn things and easy to miss but there are precautions that we can take to minimise our impact. Using the Check, Clean, Dry method is a simple but effective way to do just that.
- Check – Carefully check your clothing, towel, and any other bits of equipment (goggles and hats etc.) for plant material, aquatic animals, and even mud! Making sure to leave anything you find at the site.
- Clean – When home, thoroughly clean all your clothing and equipment, including the hard-to-reach areas, preferably with warm water.
- Dry – Ensuring that everything is completely dry is also important as some species can survive for up to two weeks in damp conditions!
Finally, if we are to enjoy our natural water sources, they need to contain water. Over-abstraction (that is using too much water from our resources) can lead to reduced or intermittent river flows, lower lake and groundwater levels, water scarcity, and increased pollution levels. It is, therefore, important that we use water efficiently and there are numerous ways we as individuals can contribute to this:
- Taking shorter showers
- Turning the tap off when brushing our teeth or shaving
- Being mindful of the water we use to wash our cars and watering our gardens
Wild swimming is a fantastic activity with a whole host of benefits to our physical and mental health, on top of being a brilliant way to get outside and reconnect with nature. So, head to a river or the sea, brace the cold and jump in! But don’t forget to do so in a responsible way that protects nature.
Don’t forget to sign up to The Rivers Trust newsletter to keep up to date with the state of our rivers, our campaigns, and the ways that you can help (https://theriverstrust.org/newsletter). Use our member trusts map (https://theriverstrust.org/about-us/member-trusts) to find your closest Rivers Trust and keep an eye on local updates and opportunities.
 Minett, G.M., Duffield, R., Billaut, F., Cannon, J., Portus, M.R. and Marino, F.E., 2014. Cold‐water immersion decreases cerebral oxygenation but improves recovery after intermittent‐sprint exercise in the heat. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(4), pp.656-666.
 Shevchuk, N.A., 2008. Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical hypotheses, 70(5), pp.995-1001.
 Schniepp, J., Campbell, T.S., Powell, K.L. and Pincivero, D.M., 2002. The effects of cold-water immersion on power output and heart rate in elite cyclists. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 16(4), pp.561-566.