“See you at 7.30am.”
For a swim.
In the sea.
Not something I previously envisioned being excited about. However, cold water swimming has become a way of life for many people – accelerated by COVID-19 and the consequent lockdown placed on us.
I’ve loved the sea since I was a child. Particularly jumping from piers and rocks, that sense of adrenaline and plunging into the water. However, these outdoor pursuits were confined exclusively to ‘taps aff’ weather and holidays.
That changed on New Year’s Day 2020. My friend was taking part in the Cancer Focus NI charity dip at Crawfordsburn and asked me along.
It was an icy cold day. There were hundreds of us on the beach. I distinctly remember looking around at everyone whipping off their coats and thinking, “These people have genuinely lost it.”
We ran full pelt into the sea and probably made it as far as our waists before the sting of the cold water reached its peak. I know that sunburn is a thing. Turns out, so is iceburn. I ran back out as fast as I could, but I was laughing my head off.
In such cold water, you cannot think of anything else or allow your mind to be anywhere else. It’s pure in-the-moment joy. That’s what got me addicted.
In my role at Ardmore as Head of Brand & Culture, I take a passionate view on staff wellness. For myself and many others at Ardmore, we gain so much more than we give with cold water swimming.
Our CEO John Keane speaks passionately about Cold Water therapy:
“My wife Sandy and I started about four months ago and have gone every week since…we absolutely love it…or at least we do every time we get back out of the water and start to warm up!!! I love the calm and the connection you feel with the beautiful nature on our doorstep, it feels like you are seeing it for the very first time and that’s coming from someone who has been sailing on Belfast Lough for 30 years!! I also love the camaraderie of something you plan and commit to and follow through with regardless of how you actually feel on the day.
“I’ll leave it to others who know more to explain the health benefits and the science behind them, but I can say there is a childlike euphoria…every time. On a less prosaic level…I have for years carried the residual pain of a broken shoulder from rugby, a kind of constant toothache like irritation which I had tuned out and got on with for years. Since we started open water swimming it’s pretty much gone!
“Oh and where else can you stick rum in your quivering flask of hot chocolate on a Saturday morning at 8am and not be frowned upon?!”
Ardmore production manager, Steve Jackson, is also a keen advocate for Cold Water therapy and has explained the key health benefits he has experienced in the process:
“The main reason I took up cold-water swimming was due to being diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis and being prescribed steroids and chemotherapy. Looking for alternative therapies, I read several studies that suggested cold-water swimming has a wide variety of health benefits, including changes in haematological and endocrine functions, fewer upper respiratory tract infections (really important in respect of reducing the potential impact of Covid-19), promotion of mental health, relaxation and general well-being – I was sold, and now totally hooked!”
As for me? I get to lose myself in something. When I am in the water, I’m not thinking about work, home pressures, or what I need to do that day… I am just thinking, “I am crazy! Why do I keep doing this?!”
When I get out, I never regret it.
Each week, I head out before work for a swim at Brompton Bay, and that whole day I feel mentally sharper and better. If I can swim in 5 degree water before the day has started, I am sure I can successfully tackle the projects I have on that day with a fresh head and give my best to my colleagues and partner Clients. Below are some of my favorite spots to swim:
I know that sea swimming helps me mentally and physically. It’s not for everyone, but what I do think is vital for everyone is finding that special something that brings you joy – and making time for it.
I’ll leave you with some of my top tips:
- Never swim alone!
- Gloves and swim socks make a huge difference…
- Plenty of warm clothes to wrap up in afterwards, you are coldest 10 mins after you get out!
- Bring a flask with warm (not boiling) water to pour over your hands and feet afterwards.
- I use a kid’s swim float to stand on afterwards when I am getting dry, keeps the feet warm(er).
- Leave a hot water bottle wrapped in your towel – you’ll be glad of it afterwards.
If that hasn’t convinced you, let’s look into the science…
Cold Water Therapy expert and MD of Natural Resilience, Ciaran May, describes the benefits of cold water therapy as truly life-changing: “It’s the ultimate life hack. It boosts our physical and mental health, with zero side effects.”
We spoke to Ciaran to find out some of the key benefits from regular cold water exposure:
1. It Develops Resilience
Getting into cold water is tough. It’s unnatural and it forces you out of your comfort zone. It initiates a stress response in the body which we overcome as we consciously breathe our way back towards control. As we go through this process regularly, the brain remembers and adapts, and we can use that in everyday life. Who doesn’t want to stress less in this day and age?
2. It Boosts Our Mental Health
The buzz after a cold water session is commonly known as “The Ultimate Natural High,” but why? Well, as we overcome the initial shock, we are rewarded with a huge release of feel-good hormones in the body, most notably dopamine, as well as serotonin, the happy hormone. Regular natural boosts of these hormones keep us from feeling low, down or fatigued.
3. It Boosts Our Physical Health
As our bodies regulate to adapt to the change in temperature, we burn off huge amounts of calories, resulting in fat loss. We also see a boost in white blood cells, which improves our immune systems. Blood flow and our lymphatic system increase, literally giving our body a well needed MOT.
4. It’s Free and Easily Accessible
It can be done in a group, with friends, family or strangers. We have some of the most dramatic coastlines in the world to benefit from this. It can also be done at home, turning your shower to cold for the last 30 seconds gradually building up to one minute. Did you know some of the world’s top performers use cold showers to start their day?
If a quick cold blast can have so many positive effects, what’s stopping you?
Give it a try.
Worst case, you’ll need of a boost of cosiness – then you can give our Client Phoenix Natural Gas a call!