Cold showers. Two words that are enough to send shivers down your spine without having to experience it.
It’s rare that you’d find someone who actually favours an icy cold shower in the morning (freaks), let alone someone who gets up early for a wintery sea dip.
And yet, we have many people doing exactly this in Manx waters throughout the winter months and it turns out that these guys might be onto something really, really good for us.
The health benefits of exposing yourself to cold water are numerous:
· It boosts your immune system
· Speeds up your metabolism
· Improves poor circulation
· Reduces stress
· You get a natural high from those delightful endorphins
· …aaand some research even suggests that it does absolute wonders for your libido. (Oi, oi!)
World-renowned figure Wim Hof, a 61-year-old Dutchman with his own superhero name ‘Iceman’, has been advocating what is called ‘cold water therapy’ for yonks.
The man has done what is scientifically impossible, having won plenty of records for longest time in direct, full body contact with the freezing elements. He also holds the title for running the fastest half marathon barefoot on ice and snow, while sporting just a pair of shorts.
His trick? He follows his Wim Hof method using meditation and breathing techniques to get him through. It’s his belief that over time we’ve disconnected with our natural environment and this had taken its toll on our survival mechanisms and therefore our mental states. This is why he champions exposing yourself to uncomfortably cold conditions so strongly.
A way to think of it is – the more you put your body through cold-shock stress, the better you will be able to deal with stressful situations in day-to-day life.
One recent, eye-opening study by academics at Cambridge University has shown that cold water swimming may even protect the brain from degenerative diseases like dementia!
Cheryl Richmond from Onchan has already felt an improvement in her overall mood and skin condition, psoriasis, since starting sea dipping this month.
The 27-year-old’s employer has had majority of its employees continue to work from home since the Covid-19 lockdown. The company introduced a ‘mental wellbeing hour’ per month for employees to take during working hours, which Cheryl has been using for sea dips in Peel.
“My first dip was on October 2nd. I heard about cafe Roots by the Sea running sea dips every weekend from my lovely friend, Kelly, but I was never brave enough to join until my work began to provide a well-being hour.
“It’s been a challenge and every week I think ‘why am I doing this to myself?’, but the delivery of hot water bottles and hot coffee afterwards makes it all worthwhile.”
She outlines the wave of emotions at sea dips:
1. Anticipation – before you get in the water
2. A hint of regret – once you get half-way in
3. A sense of calm – once you begin to swim
4. Exhilaration – once you get out and get warm!
“I’m pretty sure I hugged everyone after my first dip, as I felt like I’d accomplished something, and it put me in such a good mood for the day.
“The best benefit is the sense of community around it and the lovely people I’ve met so far.”
Charley Anderson, 37, from Douglas started her cold dips roughly a year ago.
“One of my training coaches, Emma, had been practicing Wim Hof training and suggested sea dips for muscle recovery and the health benefits. I like to try new things and to be challenged and cold-water therapy training is becoming very popular and conveyed with great benefits.”
She agrees that getting into the sea can be mentally and physically difficult, but she promises that the anticipation of running in is far worse.
“Once you get in and fully submerge, your body adjusts, and it is just a pleasant moment of serenity and peace. Your body and mind overlook any pains or stresses, and for the short period of time your only focus is that moment in the sea.
“After a sea dip the endorphins release is massive, and I am bouncing around with loads of energy and I feel great. I also love the social aspect and I sometimes join the Roots by Sea Café group who dip regularly, and I have met amazing individuals through that group.”
She thinks that everyone should try it “especially those who suffer from anxiety and/or depression, athletes for the muscle recovery and anyone wanting to burn extra calories”.
“We are very privileged to live in such an amazing place where we are surrounded by nature and natural therapy. Let’s appreciate it and just try it! To achieve and grow, you need to step out of your comfort zone. The only way to understand is to try it, then you will get it.
“Bring yourself, friends, beach changing towel/robe, hot flask, warm loose-fitting clothes to change into after and an open mind to try it and the sea dip will give you a massive smile after.”
If you ever spot a group of swimmers singing their way around Laxey bay, it’s most likely the Laxey Mermaids.
In the winter months, the group layer up with thick tights, socks and base layers as well as their wetsuits. Their look is made complete with a bobby hat.
Long-time member, Lottie Moore, joined the group after Laxey Mermaids founder Lisa Hopkins invited her eight years ago when the pair met on Laxey Beach. Lottie had previously been swimming solo.
“We built a great friendship,” said Lottie.
“I’ve always been a Laxey Mermaid. As a child being encouraged by my father to jump off his boat way out in Laxey Bay – even past Clay Head – from the age of eight made me the ‘water baby’ I am today.”
She said the group go swimming “to socialise in the great outdoors”, for the “peaceful feeling of being afloat” and for a coffee and chat afterwards.
“During lockdown and while the swimming pools were all closed, we encouraged a group of ladies who swim at the Hilton to try it and they now also have a love of the sea! Ages range from 55 to 75 years. So it’s never too late to begin this amazing adventure!”
Qualified open water coach, Silla Parnell from Castletown, goes open-water swimming all year round with just a swimsuit on. She has completed in a relay swim across the English Channel and a marathon swim (10km) in Lake Windermere.
She believes the activity does wonders for people’s mental health.
“There are a lot of studies about the mental health benefits of open water swimming and I would agree that I always feel happy after a swim regardless of my mood when I got in.
“Having to concentrate on your breathing and how your body is reacting to the extreme temperatures definitely makes you forget anything else that might be going on in your head.
“Many swimmers find being around nature extremely calming although I have to say that I don’t find that jellyfish have that effect on me! Recently quite a few swimmers have had seals for company, which they have found magical, but it’s really important to remember we are visiting their world where their rules apply.
“When people ask me why I do it – particularly in winter – my reply is always: ‘People can’t bother you when you’re in the middle of the sea.’ Perhaps I’m not as sociable as I like to think I am!
“Open water swimming is many things to many people. It can be an endurance swim in preparation for an ice mile, an adventure swim through caves, a nature swim with seals, a training swim for an Ironman, a synchronised swimming routine in Port Erin Bay or a ‘swim and talk’ with friends and that is why, in my opinion, it is great for your mental health.”
Although the benefits seem to be clear, Silla stresses that the risks of this sport really cannot be ignored.
“Obviously there is nothing stopping anyone swimming in any of the safe bathing areas around the island, however, the sea is not the place to learn how to swim. Ideally you should be able to swim double the distance in a pool that you wish to swim in open water i.e. a mile in a pool equates to half a mile in open water.
“Bear in mind that your physical size and the ambient air temperature can have a massive impact on how quickly you cool down and this is individual to each swimmer.”
Make yourself aware of the signs of hypothermia.
Wear a brightly coloured hat so you can be seen and for warmth.
Make sure that where you get in will be accessible for when you want to get out.
Always have a swim buddy
Let people know where you are swimming.
Search the Laxey Mermaids on Facebook to find out more or to join in.