Wild swimming presents us with a type of freedom of which a traditional swimming pool cannot replicate. When we move through a body of water which is pure, vast and spacious we begin to feel unrestricted, as though anything is possible. It just so happens there are also a number of benefits of wild swimming.
Our ancestors had deep connection with the water
Among many tribes water was revered as a deity. Water ceremonies and religious practices were not uncommon. Water is the life force that makes all things possible. Our ancestors knew this and respected it. The mighty tap was yet to be invented. Water was not as readily available as it is today so it was revered and celebrated.
Many of our tribal ancestors lived near water bodies such as rivers, lakes and oceans. These bodies of water provided sustenance in the form of water and fish.
For tribes living near water bodies wild swimming would have been a necessary skill to learn. It prevented the tribesman from drowning if he fell out his canoe. Wild swimming would have also been a part of many of the recreational activities.
I recently watched a documentary in which a tribe in Amazon rainforest found a water pool to play in. It was heart-warming to watch. It’s incredible how something so simple can bring so much joy.
Whether our tribal ancestors knew the benefits of wild swimming is debatable. However water bodies have been used to treat a variety of ailments as far back as the roman times.
What are the benefits of wild swimming?
There are many benefits of wild swimming both physiological and psychological. These include:
Increased flexibility and mobility
Water is many times denser than air and can therefore comfortably support our weight. The fact that we are buoyant allows us to express a variety of motions which can increase our mobility. When swimming with correct form our muscles also lengthen increasing flexibility.
Low impact on joints and muscles
In water bodies our weight is supported so there is less impact on our joints in comparison to land based activities. This has been found to reduce joint pain and stiffness with patients suffering from osteoarthritis (Study).
The water also provides a mild resistance across the whole body which we would not have if we were performing the exercises on land. This strengthens and tones the muscles. Wild swimming is great for everyone but for these reasons it can be particularly useful for anyone recovering from an injury.
Builds lung capacity
Any form of cardiovascular activity builds lung capacity. Swimming is no exception (Study, Study, Study). In fact swimming is considered by many to be the sport that has the greatest impact on lung capacity. This (Study) found elite swimmers have greater lung capacities than elite football players. Great news if you are looking to get fit whilst having a dip.
Wild swimming is a form of cold immersion
Presuming you are swimming in cold water bodies and not somewhere in the Mediterranean, the benefits of wild swimming will extend beyond solely physical exercise and also include the benefits of cold immersion. Cold immersion provides a host of benefits such as improved metabolism, circulation, complexion, and immunity which I will cover in more detail in a later article.
It also gives you a huge endorphin rush or “thrill of the chill” as many know it. One friend of mine would literally swim in the Irish Sea in the peak of winter. I went with him a few times but usually left him to it. The cold sea for him was like sugar for ants. He loved it!
Increased self-confidence and resilience
The benefits of wild swimming are not only physiological but also psychological. Knowing that you are able to perform what may one day prove to be an essential survival skill can build self-confidence. This is particularly true for those of us that are new to swimming. When swimming in cold water we develop a form of mental toughness or resilience. How many people do you see get off the sun lounger when the water is cold?
Swimming calms our minds and makes us happy
There is something magical about gliding through the water. It puts us in touch with the element that is essential to life. Our minds become calmer as we begin to focus on our movements. The stresses of our land based life begin to melt away. This is one of the benefits of wild swimming that you simply cannot get in a traditional pool.
Wild swimming also makes us happy. Cold immersion and exercise both release endorphins (or happy hormones) so you get a double helping from wild swimming.
Wild Swimming is Fun!
The benefits of wild swimming for our minds and bodies are great, but the main reason to take a swim on the wild side is because it’s fun. Flowing through the water carefree and unrestrained feels amazing.
The idea for this article came about after a wild swim in a lake in the Netherlands. I don’t really swim for any of the other benefits as my other training covers all of those also. Swimming for me is purely fun. Nothing beats a wild swim on a hot a sunny day, or a cold winters morning if you are hardcore???
(Post Note) Wild swimming is great but many wild water bodies can be unpredictable. I have been caught in a few rip tides myself. As primal as it feels to beat the element and get yourself back to land it is still a pretty scary experience. Checking the rise and fall of the tides and only venturing in safe swim zones will prevent calamity. As will swimming within your own limitations and capabilities. Enough said. Have fun!!!