Susannah Taylor: Fancy a dip on the wild side?

One of the biggest wellness trends to have emerged in 2020 has been the rise of ‘wild’ swimming. People up and down the UK are stripping off and throwing themselves into the nearest lake/pond/sea/puddle like lemmings, much to the horror of the original fans whose niche activity has gone mainstream.

My friends are all at it – utterly evangelical about its mental, emotional and physical benefits. ‘I feel like a different woman,’ ‘It makes me feel so invigorated,’ I hear them cry. Some were still diving into lakes when snow fell.

To see what all the fuss was about I recently dipped my toe in Oxfordshire’s icy cold waters. Did I like it? Maybe. I’m no stranger to plunging into murky depths (I’ve done a few triathlons and trained in toe-curling conditions) but 5C in a local lake in March was something beyond. There I was, teetering on the edge of the water wearing little but a swimming costume and rash vest, neoprene gloves and booties, yet ‘cold’ didn’t come close to describing it. It felt as if a million little knives were stabbing me all over as it literally took my breath away. I should have checked out king of cold therapy Wim Hof’s breathing techniques (

They say you should only stay in a minute per degree (so five minutes for me) and I couldn’t have done a second longer. I went home shivering and, despite a hot shower, couldn’t get warm for hours. I realised the importance of getting warm fast – there’s not a wild swimmer in the land who doesn’t use a Dry Robe, which is a waterproof, windproof, zip-up cape with fluffy lining (

My second time was far more civilised – at a friend’s with an icy swimming pool and an adjoining hot tub. Afterwards I felt glowing from the inside out.

Am I addicted? No. Swimming in general is a faff; the soggy towels, jeans you can’t get up your damp legs, the wet hair. Add to that chattering teeth, mud in your toes, mating toads, remembering something to wear to keep warm afterwards, plus the journey there and back, and it’s all a bit overwhelming – all just for a five minute dunking.

Having said that, when back at my desk, I experienced a clarity I only get when I do tough exercise. Nutritional therapist and keen cold-water swimmer Rosemary Ferguson explains, ‘Swimming in the cold is physically uncomfortable, which triggers endorphins in a similar way to when you do a hard workout.’ Rosemary also says it’s brilliant for circulation and boosts white blood-cell production, which helps the immune system.

Cold-water swimming is said to have anti-inflammatory effects, too, and many regulars also extol its physical benefits – friends say it helps with their psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. But it’s the way that cold-water swimming seems to make people feel that’s a game-changer. One friend explains the giddy, energetic high: ‘It’s partly physiological, partly a rebound from doing something nuts.’ Not to mention being immersed in nature: ‘It feels like you are pouring the outside world into your body,’ says another.

I generally like to embrace things that scare me but I would need the sea or a lake on my doorstep to wild swim regularly. I wonder whether one of the biggest reasons it’s so addictive is the fact that it forces us to get through something extreme? As the saying goes: ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’

Healthy ready meals? Yes, please!

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3 ways to get you off the sofa

Following three lockdowns, motivation to exercise is at an all-time low. Here are my tips
for getting moving when you least feel like it…

  1. Instead of mind over matter, choose what matters over mind. Ignore your thoughts about staying on the sofa and think about what really matters – ie, your wellbeing, not Netflix.
  2. Put on your gym kit, walk out of the door and close it before you have time to talk
    yourself out of it. You will feel like a fool going back in.
  3. Make a pact with yourself to exercise three times a week and mix it up every time. If you repeat the same thing you are setting yourself up for boredom and are more likely to give up.