Calm seekers: How sea-swimming helps our nervous systems
There are endless skits about it and it’s hard to deny that sea-swimming has taken Ireland by storm since the start of the Pandemic. Dry-robes are a thing (you may have heard of them?!) and investment and love for beaches has gone from strength to strength with a lot more people calling themselves coastal people.
Newsflash, Ireland has been surrounded by water for a while so why the increased fascination and what are the aspects of it that are appealing to the masses?
Dry-robe or not, when heading down to Blackrock on a Sunday morning, there’ll be a few people out and about either planning on a swim or donning a €4 coffee to warm their cockles by the sea. As I said to a friend recently ‘Have you ever met a sea swimmer who isn’t nice?’ You see, their nervous systems are so calm from that cold water immersion.
For years, 100’s of people have frequented the sea on Christmas day in aid of charities and for a challenge before eating a feast. It gets pretty baltic and yet, people go back all the time wetsuit-less.
So, what is it that’s happening and why do people love swimming in the sea so much?!
The benefits are endless and I could go on about it embarrassingly for years to come however let’s allow science to answer for it.
Cold water immersion has been talked about a lot by Wim Hoff over the past number of years. He’s gone viral and for good reason, he’s tried and tested cold water immersion and shown how it has impacted his own physical and mental health.
Let’s start with physical.
It helps to boost white blood cell count as it makes the body adapt to changing environments. Also, cold water supports circulation, by forcing blood to the surface and this helps to warm our extremities. Meanwhile, it increases libido as it increases oestrogen and testosterone production.
Sea water is salty! Therefore for those with sinus issues, the salt water can help as nature’s very own saline solution by opening up the area. This helps cilia to move mucus.
Our bodies have to work extra hard when swimming in the sea to maintain body temperature meaning it is an effective way to burn calories. It can increase metabolism by up to 550%.
Mentally, the benefits have been widely cited.
It reduces stress by allowing the mind to be calmer and more relaxed. You see, when in the water, it pushes outside of the comfort zone and therefore, builds resilience. We can feel in situations that we’re not able for something (because our brain tells us it is uncomfortable) when in fact, we are fully able. Cold water swimming trains the mind for this.
If struggling with anxiety or general worry, sea swimming can be a strong antidote. This is because of the cold water and the discomfort, it is necessary to focus on breathing. Basically, it moves you out of your head.
Swimming in the sea (in busy areas) can have a positive impact on socialisation. Swimming groups & even solo swimming and meeting random people is the social element of sea swimming. It’s a challenge to get into the water without meeting someone nearby for the odd comment or chat about it.
Sea swimming will continue to remain popular judging by current trends and the proven benefits. Should you feel the urge to try, have a clear ‘why’ to drive that motivation and while you’re at it, ensure you have the gear (swimsuit, wet suit, swim shoes) to help you feel as ready as possible. Search some groups if you can’t find suitable company as of yet.