Sea dipping is an activity that has grown in popularity in recent years, and our Scarangar Sea Dippers are huge advocates for chilly morning splashes in the Cornish sea. Hear from seasoned sea dipper Andrew why everyone should take the plunge!
Andrew (far right) with fellow Scarangar sea dippers
Why? This is the question I ask myself before every cold water dip. I stand, toes curled on the wet tarmac of the harbour car park, clad in swimwear bought for sunnier climes. Looking out onto the water which is currently doing its best impression to look tropical - I feel a growing sense of unease. My body knows the truth - this isn’t Barbados, this is Cornwall in February!
Cold water swimming has been touted as an all singing all dancing cure for much of modern life's challenges, from mental health to looking good, the benefits are many. But immersing yourself in cold water for health benefits is nothing new. Hippocrates in 400 BCE believed it ‘relieved fatigue,’ whilst Thomas Jefferson reportedly used a cold bath to keep him healthy.
So what is cold water swimming? And how do you do it?
The general premise behind cold water swimming or cold water ‘dipping’ as many like to refer to it is quite simple - expose yourself to cold water for a period of time. There have been a lot of studies on how cold and for how long. To get real effects you want to be dipping in water under 15°C and for over 5 minutes up to 15 minutes. Word of caution - start slow. Jumping into icy water stresses the body in many ways, take things easier at the start and see how you go. This is not a competition!
So why should you be taking up cold water swimming and what are the benefits? Here's 7 reasons why...
#1 Your Heart
Pumping oxygenated blood to all your organs, the heart is the engine of the body. If you want to live a long, healthy, active life, caring for it is a good idea. Immersing yourself in cold water shocks the body spiking your heart rate and blood pressure as blood is pumped from the extremities to the heart. This little internal workout strengthens the cardiovascular system, reduces cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and burns white fat (bad fat). All of this reduces the chance of cardiovascular disease. Pretty impressive stuff considering it takes 5 minutes.
#2 Strengthen and Restore Your Body
Does going in cold water make you sick - no. Does going in cold water make your immune system stronger - yes. It has been a misnomer that going out in the cold makes you sick. But on the contrary, cold exposure has been shown to increase the production of the monocytes (white blood cells) which help to stave off those winter colds. So much so that studies have shown cold water swimming can decrease respiratory tract infections by 40%. Not only this, but dipping can also reduce inflammation and pain, through the release of endorphins. Choose the adventure of dipping if you want a strong resilient body.
#3 Self Esteem / Confidence
How do you grow self-confidence? Well, according to Standard Professor of neurobiology Andrew Huberman, set and achieve small goals and then recognise your achievement. Simple really. Nothing says ‘I can do this’ more than dragging yourself out into the depths of winter, to a rugged beach, lake or pond dressed in four layers, a dry robe and a beanie then stripping it off to get wet. Once you’ve done the dip, you’ll be rewarded with dopamine, the ‘I’m great!’ and ‘I got this!’ drug. It’s completely free and your friends will think you’re cool.
#4 Become a Zen Master
I am not known as the calm and steady one of the household, I tend to have a lot of energy and no doubt irritate the other members of the house. That’s where cold water swimming comes in. Let's be honest, it’s a shock jumping in cold water and your body thinks so too. Catecholamines, a group of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, are released when you expose your body to cold and any other stress-inducing situations. If you swim regularly your body learns to deal with this stress. So hopefully next time you’re stuck in traffic or about to give a speech you should feel a little calmer.
#5 Look Amazing
Who doesn’t want to look great? Dipping helps in several ways. Firstly, the cold helps to burn white fat (bad fat) and increases brown fat (good fat), you’ll burn a load of calories which in turn may have positive aesthetic results for your body. Furthermore, your skin will glow - it sounds cliché but after exposure to the cold, your skin will flood with fresh oxygenated blood rejuvenating your skin. Nature truly is the ultimate beauty product.
Dippers and the community around cold water swimming is a tight one. It’s based on a mutual understanding that it’s good to face your fears, be brave, strip off and jump right in. Humans are social animals, we have existed as part of groups for thousands of years. The sense of belonging, support and care given by these groups help prevent loneliness and depression. Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns showed the world how much we need each other, we’re better together, better outside, up to our necks in cold water, grinning from ear to ear, laughing out loud.
This subtitle could be a whole blog, so I’ll try and keep it short.
Most humans love a trip to nature, but why? Being out in nature surrounded by green and blue can change your brain waves. Studies have shown that people who use blue/ green spaces can benefit from a myriad of positive effects including; reductions in stress, anxiety and depression, an increase in creativity, attention and memory, and even improved sleep. The adventure associated with dipping can land you in some pretty amazing places, full of wonder and awe, just the stuff the brain needs.
Humans gain a lot of nature, but isn’t it time we started looking after it? The 2022 United Nations Biodiversity conference has recently pledged to protect 30% of the world's biodiversity by 2030, and you can play a part. It makes sense that the more you go to natural areas the more connected to nature you become. When you’re swimming in the sea you don’t really want to see plastic bags everywhere. Be part of the solution.
I hope this article has shone a light on the many benefits of this simple but truly amazing activity. For me, dipping has gone from something of a novelty to something I need to do each week. It is part of my self-care routine, it’s cheap, fun, gets me out of the house and has got me out of many a slump, shocking my nervous system with a lightning bolt of cold, which I’m grateful for - even if it’s a little scary. This is the answer to my why, the why I’ll keep cold water swimming.
If you fancy trying sea dipping in the Cornish area, or if you're interested in finding out more about our Scarangar Community, pop us a message & we'll fill you in with all the details.
Andrew is a Scarangar sea dipper, beach lifeguard and school teacher. Growing up on the north coast of Cornwall, the sea and coastline has shaped who he is today.