The Surprising Benefits of Wild Swimming, the Latest Fitness Trend

written by Skye Sherman - Feb 21, 2022
medically reviewed by Dr. Tolulope Olabintan, MD - Mar 2, 2022

Photo Credit: by Angie Lopez,
Photo Credit: by Angie Lopez,

Have you heard of wild swimming? This nature-focused activity can have a lot of health benefits.

Basically, wild swimming is just swimming in the wilderness, not in a pool or supervised body of water. You can go wild swimming in a lake or at the ocean, in a river or by the sea. There are many places to try wild swimming, and the benefits seem to be immense.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of swimming in nature, which seems to be one of the latest fitness trends.

The health benefits of wild swimming

Wondering about the health benefits of wild swimming? There seem to be mental, physical, and emotional benefits of wild swimming. Some people like to go wild swimming with a dip in cold water, which can be extremely invigorating.

According to the Wild Swimming website, “Cold immersion soothes muscle aches, relieves depression and boosts the immune system. All wild-dippers know the natural endorphin high that raises mood, elates the senses and creates an addictive urge to dive back in. However the world seemed before a swim, it looks fantastic afterwards.”

The article continues, “The long-term impacts are also well researched: NASA studies have shown that, over a 12-week period, repeated cold swimming leads to substantial bodily changes known as ‘cold adaptation’. These bring down blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce fat disposition, inhibit blood clotting and increase fertility and libido in both men and women.”

A case report published by the British Medical Journal examines open water swimming as a treatment for major depressive disorder. The woman involved in their study battled with depression but found relief through wild swimming:

“A programme of weekly open (cold) water swimming was trialled. This led to an immediate improvement in mood following each swim and a sustained and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression, and consequently a reduction in, and then cessation of, medication. On follow-up a year later, she remains medication-free.” In other words, cold water swimming may be an effective treatment for depression.

However, you don’t have to take a cold plunge to go wild swimming. Simply swimming in a body of water in the great outdoors will do you some good, not only because of the physical exercise but also because of the benefits of being outside in nature and enjoying some fresh air, natural surroundings, and a stress-free environment.

It’s also just plain fun. One wild swimmer named Sharon shared her experience with us:

“I have enjoyed swimming in the outdoors for many years. Whenever I’m traveling, if I encounter a swimming hole while exploring, I have to take a dip in it. My favorite type of wild swimming is finding a beautiful waterfall after a long, sweaty hike through the woods. I love finding others to chat with at the swimming holes I visit and I’ve always said that the experience of wild swimming makes me feel free and one with nature. I hardly ever get sick and I’m generally a very happy person, and I think my love of wild swimming is a major part of it.”

If you decide to try it for yourself, you definitely won’t be alone.

Why is wild swimming the latest fitness trend?

Wild swimming may be having a moment in the spotlight, but it’s nothing new. In fact, before it was called wild swimming, it used to just be called swimming! Humans have swam in natural bodies of water since the dawn of time. We all know that returning to nature may be good for overall wellbeing, and wild swimming is no exception.

In an article titled Why wild swimming is Britain’s new craze, the BBC reports, “An antidote to pandemic loneliness, outdoor swimming groups shine the light on the pastime’s potential mental and physical health benefits. … From Scotland to Cornwall, people have been taking to the seas, lakes, lochs and rivers in greater numbers than ever before. … It seems that swimming and being outdoors is not just beneficial for your physical health, but it may also be beneficial for your mental wellbeing.”

In other words, by going for a swim in the wild, you not only get the health benefits of a hearty dose of exercise, you also benefit mentally and emotionally, too. Pandemic-related sadness is a major issue around the world, so the more ways there are to find relief, the better.

The article also points out that wild swimming is simple, easy to do, and either free or low cost. Anyone can do it; all it takes is doing a little research on the best places near you to go wild swimming. You don’t need any special equipment or gear other than a swimsuit and maybe a swim cap. If you really get into it, you can join a group of other people who enjoy wild swimming and find a whole new social group to interact with.

The article also shares some exciting statistics about the increasing popularity of wild swimming:

“According to Outdoor Swimmer magazine’s annual report, searches for the term ‘wild swimming’ – which refers to ‘swimming (or dipping) in rivers, lakes, pools, the sea etc; typically in more out-of-the-way locations with no lifeguard supervision,’ according to magazine founder Simon Griffith – increased 94% between 2019 and 2020. Wild swimming presented an opportunity to get some exercise, explore the local countryside and even visit new places in search of different waters.”

The same report also shares that more females are getting involved and, in addition, it might benefit the earth if more people become wild swimmers. This is because those who participate in outdoor swimming tend to have more awareness about environmental issues and may be more inclined to take action to reduce human impact on the environment, as well as take steps to reduce pollution.

What you need to know before wild swimming

Before simply jumping into any old body of water, you need to know about the best places to go wild swimming. You should also consider water quality and the fun of uncovering hidden gems.

In America, most of the best spots for wild swimming can be found in warm, sunny states like Florida, California, and Hawaii. However, there are wild swimming holes everywhere you go, as long as you’re willing to look hard enough!

Below, we’ll share some findings from MyProtein. The site reports, “We’ve analysed over 1,500 wild swimming spots from all over the US to see where you should take a dip. We’ve taken into account each location’s Tripadvisor rating – focusing on those with a rating of four and above – number of reviews and water quality details, sourced from United States Environmental Protection Agency.”

Here are some key facts about wild swimming from their research:

* South Beach, in Florida, is the most polluted popular swimming spot in the U.S

* California, Maryland, South Carolina, and Arizona also made the top 10 of the most polluted popular swimming locations

* Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach came out on top as the best swimming location in the U.S.

* But, Rhode Island has the best water quality with 95% clean waters, followed by Texas and Colorado

It’s important to be aware of water quality before going wild swimming. Water pollution doesn’t just include man-made chemicals; you also need to be careful to avoid “naturally occurring organisms such as bacteria or algae,” according to MyProtein. “Swimming in or consuming polluted water can cause a range of different health conditions so make sure you’re following local guidelines and advice when looking for a wild swimming location.”

There are many popular swimming spots that don’t have good water quality, including many of Florida’s beaches. Just because a place is a natural place to swim doesn’t make it a great spot for wild swimming!

Here are some of the wild swimming hidden gems of America, according to MyProtein. These are the least-visited but cleanest wild swimming spots.

“Montana’s Lake Koocanusa is host to sandy beaches and sparkling blue waters. In summer, the water is usually around 75°F, making it the perfect place to enjoy a warm swim in peace. Second on the list is Seneca Lake Park in Ohio. This is another location with great water quality and five-star reviews, and is known as a top spot for picnics by locals. It’s Ohio’s third-largest waterway, meaning you have plenty of space to enjoy an undisturbed swim. Oklahoma pinches third place with Lake Ponca. A clean, quiet spot, visitors can enjoy bike trails, camping and fishing amongst other wholesome activities nearby!”

The last thing you need to be aware of before going wild swimming is to avoid trespassing on private property. This is both dangerous and illegal. If you have to cross private property in order to get to your wild swimming spot, it’s probably a little too wild!

Try wild swimming at a spot near you and see if you experience the benefits of this latest fitness trend, which is really an age-old hobby.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.