Braving the Cold… Winter Swimming in Scotland

By Magdalena Szczepanczyk

Winter Swimming in Luss

When thinking of swimming in a lake, ocean or the sea, winter is probably not the first season you immediately think of. When the outdoor temperature drops down below 5 degrees and all you want to do is put an additional layer of clothes; there are those who break the stereotypes associated with the cold. Stripping down to practically nothing and entering the chilling water may not be appealing to everyone. Panicking and breathing frantically is the body’s reaction when the cold hits. Wanting to leave as quickly as possible is a natural instinct. But for winter swimmers, this experience is a little different because nothing quite compares to the magic of cold water.

Winter swimming is as the name itself suggests, entering a lake, ocean or sea during the winter months. It is a type of exercise that has been done for many years in various countries by brave individuals, who for various reasons, but especially its health benefits cool down the body’s temperature. 

Swimming or just taking a regular dip in cold water has been becoming popular every year despite being seen as a controversial sport by many. With Facebook groups specifically created for the sole purpose of winter swimming, it is made easier to meet avid cold lovers who willingly take a dip in low temperatures. As you enter the cold water, it sends chills up your spine, but taking the first shaky steps is already invigorating enough to give you a rush of endorphins. This exhilarating experience is one of a kind and its addictiveness is extremely high with the buzz from winter swimming lasting for hours after doing it. 

Swimming during winter has many pro-health benefits for individuals undertaking this activity on a regular basis. Modern doctors compare winter swimming to taking ice baths which have been found to release muscle tension, muscle soreness and help in getting rid of lactic acid build up. A group of winter swimmers called ‘Wektor’ said that “a lot of people ask the question of whether the cold is good for our health. Therefore, it is good to know that cold water has anti-inflammatory benefits as well as helping with pain relief, it has anti-ageing benefits and strengthens the body. Wrong are the people who believe that winter swimming is against the human nature.” 

The group further adds “Residents of Siberia and Scandinavian countries eagerly jump into ice-holes, knowing that winter swimmers have a better immune system and possess more life energy. A cold bath relaxes and is a medicine for insomnia and placing your arms elbow high in cold water for 20 seconds invigorates better than a cup of strong coffee.”

Finding a spot for some winter fun isn’t as challenging as it may seem. Regular winter swimmers have spots where they swim every time and don’t make changes often. Biggest groups in Scotland are based in Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Isle of Lewis and the Shetland Islands, however there are also numerous smaller groups around Scotland who get together for a friendly swim. 

There are three steps to becoming a winter swimmer according to a Luss based group of gym friends who swim every Saturday morning. 

Step One: Open your mind 

Winter months are seen as depressive, cold and wet by many. Days are shorter and the last thing you want to think about is the chilling cold that winter brings. Our frame of mind is shaped by our thoughts. If you believe that winter will bring along stagnancy and illnesses, then most certainly that will be the case. In order to start winter swimming, firstly you have to realise that winter swimming is not only reserved for those specially chosen by fate. Winter swimmers naturally demonstrate courage and fortitude, but these characteristics can be easily found in anyone. It is about taking the first step, overcoming winter monotony  and opening yourself to new experiences.

Open your mind and imagine yourself taking a winter bath, one that puts you in a phenomenal mood.

Step Two: overcome fear

Before the first swim fear might setting in, but this a natural companion of new experiences. You cannot allow fear to decide for you. Thinking positively and opening your mind already makes you half-way there. Connecting with groups local winter swimming groups can be beneficial, especially before taking the first dip. Tips from experienced winter swimmers can be priceless.

Step Three: become a winter swimmer

Becoming a winter swimmer will break the daily monotony and harden you character. Take the risk and find out for yourself that jumping into cold water while the weather is chilly is not as tough as it may seem. 

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