The Life-Changing Magic of Sea Swimming

A former client of mine asked me to write more about the sea swimming I started doing during the Covid-19 lockdown. As part of my ideal life, I’ve always dreamed of living by the sea. So when I met my English husband and we decided to live in England, I said it would have to be walking distance to the beach. We found the ideal family home at a ten-minute walk from one of the best beaches.

I’ve lived in England for 17 years now but still vividly recall the first time I went for a swim on a hot summer day. The water was so icy that it took my breath completely away. I clambered out in shock, still struggling to breathe. After 17 years of studiously avoiding the water, even in the summer, I never would have imagined that I’d be looking forward to a daily swim in the sea, even in the depth of winter when the water drops to 6 degrees Celsius. I wouldn’t even go in with a wetsuit because it was too cold. But now I plunge in armed with nothing more than a regular swimsuit and some sea boots and neoprene gloves in the winter. 
I can’t quite believe it myself. I don’t like discomforts, especially the cold. I often have cold hands and feet in the winter. I never take cold showers and adore my creature comforts. I like a good thick mattress. I had to buy a foam mattress topper because I could feel the buttons despite the thick mattress protector. Yes, I’m the real princess and the pea.

A few things conspired to turn the tide for me, the first being the pandemic forcing gyms and pools to close. I only enjoy exercising in a group and doing classes online isn’t for me. Without the gym and the need to socially distance, I was left with walking with my family and swimming with a small group of friends. I also did a few of SarahBeth’s Yoga on YouTube. I am very grateful for her generosity in providing free, excellent yoga classes online. 

I wouldn’t have even considered sea swimming without the support of my friends, one of whom had recently read Wim Hof’s book, The Wim Hof Method.  My friend shared that cold water immersion was great for boosting your immune system—just what we needed in the middle of a pandemic! It turns out, it is great for lots of other things too. It lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s and helps with depression, among other benefits. But, what I most relish is the mental clarity.

A dip in icy water instantly blasts away all cobwebs and foggy-headed feelings. It is completely invigorating. Every cell in your body wakes up, including your brain cells. Ten cups of coffee might make you feel buzzy, but you won’t get that crystal sharp mental clarity. So yes, a dip in ice water will clear your head faster than anything I know– without the caffeine jitters — and is an excellent way to start the day.

If you are feeling a bit lethargic and tired at the end of a day, nothing will refresh you faster than an icy plunge. If you take a hot bath afterwards to warm up, you’ll sleep like a baby. In fact, I avoid taking a hot bath afterwards in the morning because it makes me too sleepy. At first, I raced home to take a hot shower, shivering with the cold.

Now that it is spring and the water is warmer (about 12 degrees), I don’t even need to take a hot shower afterwards. Your body is amazingly good at adapting and builds more capillaries to keep you warmer, making it easier over time. Give it three months. I’ll wager you’ll be hooked, too! 

What I noticed is that for the first time in years, I didn’t get a cold. In fact, I haven’t been sick since starting sea swimming. Now that might be that we were isolating, wearing masks, and using hand sanitizer. So I can’t rule out those relevant variables, but it will be interesting to see what happens this coming year. And my hands and feet are warmer now, too. I used to wear socks to bed to keep warm, but now I don’t need them.

I’m not even doing the breathing exercises that help you endure cold temperatures. Once I add in those exercises , even more benefits will accrue.

The biggest revelation wasn’t that I’m tougher than I thought. Rather it was that it is easier to adapt to difficult physical challenges than I had thought. The human body is amazingly resilient and thrives on a challenge.

Best of all, I don’t have to move to California to fully enjoy the sea. Now that I feel completely happy to swim in the sea, my life is even more ideal. The other day I went for a hike on Dartmoor and decided to take a dip in the River Dart for fun. I wouldn’t have done this before as it would have been too cold. It felt about the same temperature as the sea so, it wasn’t a problem. I’m not afraid of cold water anymore. In fact, I now seek out and relish what I used to avoid. 

This makes me wonder, where else in my life have I gotten too soft, too comfortable, too afraid? How am I limiting my enjoyment because of fear of discomfort? I’m not a masochist and I love my comforts and luxuries. But now I have the great luxury of not having to move to a warmer port of call. In fact, I’m thinking that Hawaii, California, and the Mediterranean might be too warm for me now. Of course, I’m sure I’d adapt! 

The present really is perfect, and here I thought the sea was too cold. Ha! 

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