Yesterday I made my first trip of the year to the ladies pond. For those not in the know, the ladies pond is a ladies-only outdoor swimming pond on Hampstead Heath. As a born and bred NW3 girl I have spent many of my happiest days here, lounging around semi-naked in the sun (and quite often cloud) within the boundaries of this haven of tranquility.
So there I was, bikini clad and shivering in the wind. Those who know me will back me up when I say that I am afflicted by some kind of body temperature disorder, forever cold and sporting goose bumps in the middle of summer. It had gotten to past 5pm and somehow I had managed to still avoid actually going in the pond. The thought of it filled me with dread, could anything be worse?
To cut a long story short I forced myself into it, I could not go home feeling defeated and weak. Following the initial, ‘Oh f*** this is freezing!’ moment, I had a lovely time doing breaststroke amongst the ducks and communing with mother nature.
I came out feeling joyful, invigorated and strangest of all, actually warmer. As I lay there drying off I pondered, how can it be that I was cold, tired and achy and now after jumping into an icy mud pool I am warm, energised and limber as a cat? Just how exactly does that work? Read on to discover the proven health benefits of outdoor swimming.
It boosts your immunity
Swimming outdoors regularly leads to a strengthened immune system. This is because your body interprets the sudden burst of icy coldness as an ‘attack’ and gets ready to fight back by producing white blood cells to protect itself.
It gets your blood pumping
Another way the body reacts to cold water is by pumping blood towards the internal organs to protect them and keep them warm. Blood-flow increases in all areas of the body, flushing out the circulatory system and getting rid of nasty toxins. So say hello to glowing skin and reduced cellulite!
It soothes sore muscles
Cold water lowers the temperature of damaged tissue and locally constricts blood vessels, helping to relieve stiffness in the body. Cold water immersion is often used by athletes and can be particularly beneficial for people with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Burn baby burn
Swimming itself is already a great form of exercise, swimming in cold water is even better as your body will burn extra calories to keep you warm. The cold water also kick-starts the metabolism so that you burn calories faster throughout the day.
It triggers feel-good chemicals in the brain
Swimming outdoors is not only great for your physical health but it does wonders for your mental health as well. If you are feeling blue, a cold dip may just give you that much needed endorphin rush. The cold shock of the water hitting your skin causes the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. The cold also activates the parasympathetic nervous system and triggers the release of the feel good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
Long-term health benefits
Studies have shown that the long term health benefits of regular outdoor swims include reduced blood pressure and cholesterol, reduced fat disposition and inhibited blood clotting. And if all the above hasn’t yet convinced you to take the plunge… outdoor swimming can also improve your sex life. Swimming in cold water leads to increased production of testosterone in men and oestrogen in women, meaning both sexes are more likely to be in the mood for love.
So go on, take the plunge this summer. You know you want to.