Swimming for the soul – the benefits of sea swimming

By Amy Connaughton

For over 250 years, the Forty Foot near Dún Laoghaire in South Dublin, has seen people swimming every single day, rain, hail or sunshine. It’s no secret that the Irish water is not quite like swimming in the Caribbean. So, are these people crazy? Or are we the crazy ones for not reaping all the benefits of sea swimming.

For centuries, people have believed in the power of the sea, however, health professionals have started to accept the idea that the sea has a positive effect both mentally and physically.

On the VHI’s website, they list some of the physical benefits of regular sea swimming. Sea water is rich in vitamins and minerals which is of huge benefit to people with skin conditions. Magnesium lowers cortisol which calms your nervous system and therefore reduces the potential for stress-prompted skin issues. People with psoriasis and eczema may benefit.

Due to the sea water being salty, this acts as nature’s own saline solution which helps the cilia to move mucus, clearing the sinuses. Since the water is extremely cold in Ireland, this can give the body a boost of adrenaline which can give relief for some types of pain.

Not only are there physical benefits, but people who make a habit of swimming in the sea regularly also reap the mental health benefits of swimming.

Swim Ireland is the national governing body of open water swimming in Ireland and on their website, they talk about the mental health benefits to sea swimming. According to Swim Ireland, scientific research has shown that exercise not only leads to a healthy body but also leads to a healthy mind.

Hydrotherapy has been shown to decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Focusing on your breathing can act almost as a form of calming meditation and this breathing control involved in swimming can slow you down and reduce stress.

The shock on our bodies from the cold water also releases dopamine and serotonin, both of which are mood boosting chemicals. Swimming can reduce stress due to increased blood flow to the brain which promotes the growth of new brain cells which can break down in times of stress.

Today, a growing number of cold-water swimmers swear by the mental and physical benefits.

One of these committed swimmers is regular, Billy Morrison, 75 of Ballsbridge. Billy, although currently residing in Ballsbridge, originally grew up in Blackrock by the sea and has been swimming almost every day for 60 years.

“I drive down every morning. It gets me out of bed and it keeps me going. Physically it’s good exercise, I usually swim for about 10 to 15 minutes which is just enough for me. Some days in the winter you come down and it’s miserable but you have a couple of seconds in the water and then you feel great for the rest of the day.

“So, it’s good physically but also there are maybe 20 to 25 people who would come around at this time so it’s social as well as everything else. It’s grim at times in winter and you come down here and we’re saying to each other what are we doing here. You get in and it’s cold and you get out and you feel great, so long as you don’t stay in too long.

“What’s great about this spot is that irrespective of which way the wind is blowing, there’s always somewhere to swim. If it’s too windy at the Forty Foot and the sea is too rough, we can go around the corner to Sandycove and swim there where it’s more sheltered. So, we very rarely have an excuse not to get in, unfortunately.” Billy said.

The Forty Foot used to be a gentleman-only bathing spot as demonstrated by a large sign at the entrance, however now it is open to everyone. Emer White, 73 of Dún Laoghaire, is one such woman who enjoys swimming in the Forty Foot daily.

She said, “I swim every day from May to December. It’s handy for me because I live just a 10 minute walk down the road. I’ve been swimming here for 20 years. I come whenever it’s high tide because if it’s too low you can’t really swim at Sandycove. But at the Forty Foot you could swim any time of the day because the tide never goes too low. In the really nice days of summer, I come down in the morning and then come again in the evening for sun up and sun down.

“It’s just so lovely being in the seawater; you can’t compare it to the pool. I swim in the pool from December to May but with the chlorine and everything, there’s no comparison. But it’s good exercise and for me, I like it because it’s easy on my joints and once you’re in the water you feel weightless.

“I swim because it makes me feel good, it gives me something to do to start my day off and then I feel great for the rest of the day.”

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