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  • Writer's pictureHelen Laing

The Big Chill: The Benefits of Cold Water Swimming

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Cold water swimming is the act of swimming in a pool, lake, or pond when it’s at its coldest. Here at the Beach Retreats the beautiful Mini Lido - our Californian style watering hole - is heated from May through to September, but a little-known secret is that you can actually swim all year round...if you're brave! You'll probably have the pool to yourself and, not only is it good physical exercise, there are a myriad of health benefits too.

Alternatively, if you're feeling adventurous, our beachside homes are close to some of the best wild swimming locations in Devon, as well as just a flip and a flop from the gorgeous Woolacombe beach.

Does the thought of cold water swimming give you chills? The reality is that cold water is going to take you out of your comfort zone, it is a bit OTT, but once you get beyond the initial shock, there is something really grounding about it. It resets you.

Five Amazing Health Benefits of Cold Water Swimming

1. It boosts your immune system

Cold water helps to boost the white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to changing conditions. Over time, your body becomes better at mobilizing its defenses. Admittedly - the science isn't conclusive on this one but many swimmers report fewer coughs and colds than their non-swimming friends. 2. It gives you an endorphin high

Increasing endorphins is a way to give yourself a natural high (and who would say 'no' to that?) Plunging into the cold water is as much a mental as a physical endeavour, and the benefits go far beyond the physical benefits of exercise - the endorphins that are released can help tackle depression. That initial sharp intake of breath as the cold water hits your skin is actually a sign that you are getting closer to the the pain barrier and it's this that triggers the release of endorphins - designed to help with pain. That pain is only momentary, it tails off once you get moving. Once you're done, you'll find that you have a prolonged, wholesome buzz.

"The process of forcing yourself to stay in cold water could be increasing your mental strength. Getting out of your comfort zone builds confidence and courage as well as giving you a sense of accomplishment. By becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable you increase your resilience in other areas of life"

- Swim Secure

3. It enhances your circulation

By flushing your veins, arteries and capillaries, cold water swimming helps to warm your extremities by forcing blood to the surface and pushing the cold downwards. Repeated exposure will help you to adapt to the cold. As we get older, this is essential - it'll help us to cope better cope during harsh winters.

4. It burns more calories

Taking a dip at any time of year is commendable - it's all exercise after all - but swimming in colder conditions actually amps your efforts. Overall, you will burn far more calories than swimming in hotter conditions. Cold water reduces your body temperature and your body will act upon this, burning calories as it goes - perfect if you need a little hand burning off some holiday indulgence. If you're looking to kick-start a fitness routine when you stay at the Beach Retreats, you can't go far wrong with a daily dip in the Mini Lido and, for more fitness advice and tailored workouts, the team at SALT Gymnasia at our sister hotel - the Woolacombe Bay Hotel - are here to help. 5. Radiant Skin

Swimming in open water - especially sea water - may have beneficial effects on your skin. Salt water is awash with magnesium, calcium and potassium, which are all great news for your biggest organ - your skin. Sea water is also a mild antiseptic and may encourage damaged skin to heal.

Getting started with cold water swimming

Before you dive straight in and take the plunge, there are a few thing to think about. Firstly, if you have respiratory, heart or blood pressure problems, are pregnant or unfit it's best not to try this. Secondly, acclimatising is essential. The best way is to start cold swimming in the summer and then to carry on as the temperature drops. Otherwise, start in a pool - the Mini Lido at the Beach Retreats is perfect.

Some top tips:

  • When you first start, lower yourself gently into the water, swim with your head above water, and breathe as slowly and as calmly as you can. Controlling your breath in this way will bring a calm, mindfulness to your swimming practice.

  • If you're going wild swimming or to a beach, find somewhere with a car park nearby and go swimming with others.

  • Your body temperature will continue to drop after you get out of the water, reaching its coldest 10 minutes post-swim, so dress immediately.

  • As inviting as it may seem, don’t take a hot shower straight after your cold water swim: warming your body gradually, by putting on more clothes and having a warm drink is safer.

The best places to go cold water swimming in North Devon

The Mini Lido at the self-catering Beach Retreats is of course a great place - just seconds from your beachside home, the pool is open all year round (heated from May - September). You can make the short dash from your self-catering home in your swimmers, and swim until your heart is content.

If you would like to make the most of the health benefits of salt water, Woolacombe beach is just a short stroll away. A popular haven for surfers, you'll find that the three miles of sandy shores offer plenty of space for everybody. Just be sure to swim parallel to the shore, not away from it, and know your limitations. Swim with others and wear something bright - a bright swimming cap will not only keep you visible, it'll also help to conserve heat.

For wild swimming at its most wild, take a short drive to Exmoor National Park. Perfectly positioned for the brave, these wild swimming spots are among our favourites...

Woody Bay, Exmoor

Hidden among the wild cliffs and peaks of Exmoor’s coast you’ll find a mermaid’s lido. At the far end of Woody’s Bay, a remote shingle beach, the softly undulating rocks dip into a natural tidal pool. Not a big pool, but definitely very beautiful, you'll definitely get all the benefits of cold water swimming while you float without a care, with no one there.

The River Barle, Exmoor

The largest river on Exmoor National Park, the Barle is a rich habitat for salmon, otters, kingfisher, and a rare river jelly lichen. This makes it a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and, as you may expect, the water is crystal clear. Near a little place called Simonsbath, there is a calm and open section of river which lends itself to swimming. Simonsbath itself is a pretty moorland village that is worth a visit so why not make a morning of it? It's around 40 minute's drive from Woolacombe; go via coast or country - it's a lovely route either way.

Watersmeet, Exmoor

Bring the whole family – and the pup – to enjoy a swim in the pools, or follow the river for 1.5km to Long Pool. This is a 50m long ravine, where the inky depths of water are shielded by granite sides. It’s an otherworldly, implausible spot. You may hear the plop of a salmon or see an iridescent flash of dragonfly as you take your dip.

Now get yourself out there & enjoy it!

Our advice, pack your swimmers, whatever time of year you're visiting. Privately owned, the Beach Retreats are a little cluster of 31 self-catering homes in the heart of Woolacombe, North Devon. They are just a flip and a flop from the soft sands of Woolacombe beach, the independent local shops, and some lovely eateries. Our little white-washed village is an escape that you can call home; each apartment is the perfect base from which to explore our countryside and coastline.

The Beach Retreats are the only self-catering accommodation in Woolacombe with a swimming pool and free parking. Discover the Beach Retreats...

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