The Benefits of Wild Swimming in Scotland
Posed photos of middle-class urbanites in cashmere bobble hats have flooded social media as townspeople took to the trend of Wild Swimming in Scotland. It’s interesting that this is seen as a new trend, our open waters, once used by our Grandparents as a place where people congregated on a summers day to paddle, picnic and play are now the centre of a trending hashtag on Instagram- but is Wild Swimming in Scotland just a trend, or do people really seek out its benefits?
With the overbearing pressures of work, studying, finance, social life, exercise, technology, dieting, meal prep, self-care and whatever other millennial facade is thrown our way, society has been left feeling overwhelmed. With one third of Scots struggling to cope with mental health each year, it is no wonder that people are taking to Scottish Waters as a relief from daily life.
Wild Swimming is an instant mood booster
The worst thing my friends say to me as we stand, hands in pockets, hats on and hoods up, looking out the arctic lagoon is “You’ll feel better when you’re in”, but they (annoyingly) are correct- the most difficult part of Wild Swimming in Scotland is, getting in.
As you feel the sharp shingles of water creeping through your wetsuit and onto your skin, you really do start to question your sanity, but as you fully submerge, you are overwhelmed with endorphins flooding your body, and suddenly, you feel a sense of tranquility overwhelm you.
Endorphins are the hormones that our body releases when we feel pain, or stress, and are released to our brain to improve our mood. The biological theory is that the shock of the cold water triggers our bodies natural stress response, which then increases heart rate, blood pressure and releases our bodies stress hormones. As our stress hormones travel through our body, we are left on a natural high.
Wild Swimming is not only a short-term mood booster, there are numerous studies to suggest that Wild Swimming can aid coping with long-term mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Immersion in cold water helps us to be able to reduce our bodies stress response, not just to cold water, but to every day challenges.
Wild Swimming is a full body workout
There are various physical levels of what people class as’Wild Swimming’. To some, it is wading in for a quick dunk, to others, it is breast-stroking across the loch, either way, there are physical bonuses to taking the plunge. I won’t dive too deep into the physical impacts of Wild Swimming, as I do not want my opinions of Wild Swimming to be categorised within the confines of diet culture. However, I do think it is important to state that there are numerous physical benefits to Wild Swimming in Scotland.
Improved physical strength
The act of using your arms, legs, hands and feet to stay afloat is a great form of exercise, with the added pressure from the cold water making your body work harder to keep you warm. The added weight of your wetsuit, neoprene socks/ boots, safety tow and wetsuit gloves helps burn calories and aid weight loss.
Improved Cardiovascular health
Heading into the cold Scottish water will literally take your breath away. But in doing so, you are improving your cardiovascular health, the cold water immersion sparks a ‘shock response’ that stresses the cardiovascular system and elevates the heart rate- an important element in high-intensity heart-healthy exercise.
Other physical benefits of Wild Swimming include:
- Improved Cardiovascular health
- Strengthens Immunity
- Strengthens metabolism
- Reduced pain and inflammation
It is important to take note that if you have any previous injuries or medical issues, you should speak with your doctor before starting new physical activities.
Wild Swimming builds a sense of community
Although I crave the feeling of tranquility and joy that wild swimming brings me, I do often have moments where staying wrapped up under a blanket sounds a lot more appealing than plunging into the ice-cold Scottish waters, but then the overwhelming feeling of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) comes into play, as I watch my friends waddle into the water.
Having friends and family that are crazy enough to join me, is my favourite part of Wild Swimming in Scotland. As the cold water touches our skin, our screeches and squeals bounce off the surrounding mountains until the sounds escaping us are nothing but joy and laughter, cheerful sounds that can only be made by a group of buffoons taking on the challenge of Scotlands waters with nothing but some neoprene protecting us from the elements.
With Wild Swimming becoming ever more popular in recent years, the Wild Swimming community has flourished, with more and more groups popping up, where people go to seek out companionships with like-minded people. Wild Swimming groups open up the waters to everyone, allowing people to safely swim with people, make friends and experience the benefits of Wild Swimming in Scotland, when they may otherwise not be able too.
Find a Wild Swimming group near you, here
If you are looking to join a Wild Swimming group in Edinburgh, check out these ones below :
Edinburgh Blue Balls
Location – Various around Edinburgh, including Portobello beach
Swim Times –Various, see Instagram
Social Media – Edinburgh Blue Balls
Location – Portobello Beach (by the Epsy pub), three miles east of Edinburgh
Contact – Olivia Sharron
Swim Time – Various, see Instagram
Social Media – @chilly.dippers
Safety considerations for Wild Swimming
Although beautiful, the Scottish Waters should not be under-appreciated, they can be somewhat dangerous if not respected. If you are participating in Wild Swimming in Scotland, it is important to be sensible and to keep safe, follow the checklist below to make sure you are doing all you can to keep safe and have fun in Scotlands waters.
Entering the water too quickly could give you ‘cold water shock’ where your body does not have time to react to the shock, cold water shock, at the worst, can be fatal. To build acclimatisation, start wild swimming in the summer months, when the waters are warmer, you can also take cold showers- but bare in mind, its always better to slowly wade into the water to allow your body to react safely to the cold.
Check out the Outdoor Swimming Society’s guide to acclimatisation here.
Wear adequate protection
If you are Wild Swimming in winter, it is important you wear adequate protection to keep yourself warm- wear a neoprene wetsuit (of the correct season), neoprene gloves and socks and always swim with a tow float. Check out our Guide to Wild Swimming blog here where we highlight some of our favourite equipment.
Don’t stay in too long
With all the adrenaline running through your body, you may simply be having too much fun and not realise how cold your body is, staying in for a couple minutes is enough to feel the benefits.
Get warm and dry straight away
It is important to get warm and dry straight away and keep warm for 20-30 minutes after you swim- a good excuse to head to grab a coffee from your local cafe.
Know the waters
Scottish waters are temperamental and should be respected- it is important to keep yourself safe by learning about the dangers of currents and tides and recognising the dangers of the waters. Bare in mind, weather conditions of previous days can completely change the safety of your local swimming spot.
MY Adventure and Intrepidus Outdoors are adventure tours and outdoor experience providers, both based in Edinburgh, Scotland. We specialise in private and open canyoning, coasteering, mountain biking and hill walking tours, and deliver these adventurous experiences across Scotland. We are also a provider of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Expeditions where we run bronze, silver and gold level awards for young people.
- A guide to Wild Swimming in Scotland here
- Eight Scottish Wonders- by Paul Lamarra here
- The best head torches for adventures in the outdoors here
- High and Mighty- Bouldering in Scotland here
- Top tips for backpacking Scotland here
- 6 steps to being happy like a Scot here
- You’ll never get bored in Edinburgh here
- Best Budget Hotels and Hostels Edinburgh here
- Hen Party Adventures Edinburgh: here
- Stag Party Outdoor Adventures Edinburgh Essentials: here
- SUP, A Buying Guide: here