Festive dips can provide a huge natural high, a real adrenaline rush and a sense of wellbeing. This year, thousands of Brits will take the plunge and brave the icy cold sea temperatures for festive and New Year’s dips.
People take part for a variety of reasons, from raising money for charity to family traditions, or simply as part of the growing trend for year-round open water swimming.
According to the Outdoor Swimming Society, taking part in a one-off Christmas dip often gives people the bug for open water swimming on a regular basis.
Although at first this may not seem like your cup of tea, there’s a whole host of benefits associated with regular open water swimming that might just change your mind.
In fact, being a regular open water swimmer has been linked to getting better quality sleep, having a boosted immune system, increased metabolism, and better circulation. It’s even said to help prevent and manage some long-term health conditions by improving your body’s defensive response.
Ongoing research shows regular winter swimmers have a protein in their blood that appears to slow down the onset of dementia, and in some cases, even repairs some of the damage dementia causes, although this research is still in its very early stages2.
In addition, open water swimming can actually make you happier and improve your mood due to increased thyroid stimulation.
If you’re tempted to give it a go, here are some top tips to help you prepare and get the most out of your experience:
Open water swimming can be dangerous and isn’t for everyone. It’s best to check with your doctor before taking part in your first open water dip – well for one in the winter at least!
If you get the go-ahead, only swim where you can enter and exit the water quickly and easily.
Help reduce the risk of cold water shock and struggling for breath, by avoiding jumping or diving into cold water.
Don’t go it alone
Find a friend or join a club, something shared is much more fun (and it’s always safer to swim with others than alone).
You’ll be surprised how many people out there are open water swimming. There are more than 150 clubs that train and compete in open water swimming in England3.
Be prepared and take your time
Open water swimming is a very different experience and it’s okay to feel nervous or apprehensive.
To help boost your confidence and skills before getting in the open water, check if your local swimming pool offers open water coaching lessons.
Before you swim, ensure you’re warm and that you have the right kit to help preserve body heat. A swimming hat, gloves, booties, or a wetsuit can really help. Wear whatever you feel most comfortable in.
If you can, do a few acclimatising dips in the run-up to the main event, and if you’re swimming at an organised event allow yourself extra time to find the venue. Sometimes venues can be hidden away, and you don’t want to be panicked and flustered before you even start.
Be mentally prepared. It will take time for your body to get used to the drop in temperature, so you’ll need some determination to keep swimming and get acclimatised.
Insider tip: Exhale as you get in. Your ribcage contracts in cold water, which leaves some swimmers feeling as though they’re struggling to breathe.
Be realistic and know your limits
Think about your ability – are you a social swimmer, a serious swimmer, or not much of a swimmer at all?
For your first dip, don’t fall into the trap of simply picking the nearest venue, find the right venue for your ability.
Try talking to other swimmers – open water swimmers are generally a very friendly bunch, with a wealth of insight and experiences. Many will have tried a range of venues in the area.
Don’t set your expectations too high, you’re likely to be in the water for a lot less time than you think and probably won’t swim very far. Winter swimmers will often only swim for one or two minutes at a time and for just 25 metres or less.
Your temperature will continue to drop after you get out of the water, and you’ll probably feel colder than when you were in the water for up to 40 minutes afterwards.
It’s important to fight the natural urge to get warm as quickly as possible.
Jumping straight into a hot shower might seem like a great idea, but this can cool your core temperature, which can be dangerous.
Remove your wet swimming gear as early as possible and make sure you have plenty of warm clothes to wrap up in. It’s recommended to have a hot drink and it’s somewhat of an open water swimming tradition to have a hot cuppa with cake after a dip.
Open water swimming is truly a unique experience, and Rian in our team will be trying for the first time this Christmas, and Emily is also giving it a go on New Year’s Day. We wish them both the very best of luck, along with everyone else taking part in festive open water dips.