Outdoor Swimming General Information

What is outdoor swimming?

Outdoor swimming does not need to involve actual swimming! It just needs to be outside and in water that isn’t heated to above 20˚C. Getting into water that is below 20˚C has a significant effect on the body. 20˚C is, pretty much, the highest temperature seen in the lakes, rivers, lidos, reservoirs and sea in the UK

People who dip or swim outdoors may just immerse themselves in the water, some will take a few strokes, others will want to swim – it doesn’t matter. It is just about getting in!

Monday to Friday 09.00 to 17.00

Send us an email spnt.OUTSIDE@NHS.net

Why do people swim outside?

Many people have found benefits to their mental wellbeing as a result of regular outdoor swimming.

  • Regular immersion in cold water may gradually reduce stress levels in everyday life
  • People say that swimming outdoors helps them sleep
  • Research has shown exercise is as effective as medication and talking therapies in the treatment of depression.
  • Ecotherapy – offering therapeutic interventions in nature – benefits mood and mental wellbeing
  • The groups that develop around outdoor swimming provide valued and supportive social contact.

However, there is currently a lack of high-quality evidence from large randomised controlled trials which is why we are doing this study.

Background Information

Depression affects a lot of people worldwide, especially during COVID-19. Treating it costs a lot of money. Common treatments like therapy, medication, and exercise help, but they don’t work as well for everyone. Not everyone can exercise enough, and not everyone responds well to therapy or medication.

Being in nature, like green or blue spaces (like near water), seems to help mental health. Activities in nature, called “green exercise,” have helped many feel better. One study found that being in nature improved well-being for most people and made them feel more connected to nature and others. However, not all nature activities suit everyone.

Activities near water, like swimming, are becoming more popular and seem to improve mental health. Swimming outdoors, especially, seems to have benefits beyond just exercise. People say it helps them feel present and escape from stress. Swimming might affect the body in ways that help mental health, like stimulating nerves or changing hormone levels.

Previous research suggests that swimming outdoors might reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. Some studies found that after outdoor swimming sessions, people felt better. In a study with people experiencing depression, most showed improvement after an outdoor swimming course.

More research is needed to understand if outdoor activities like swimming can help people with depression. Swimming outside could be risky, so we need to make sure it’s safe and helpful before suggesting it as a treatment for depression. We also need to see if enough people with depression are interested in trying this intervention and whether it works better for some people than others.

A previous study hinted that outdoor swimming could help with depression, but more extensive research is needed. It showed positive results, with the outdoor swimming group feeling better than the control group. Fewer people in the swimming group needed depression-specific therapy afterwards. If future studies support these findings, outdoor swimming could become a recognised treatment for depression, available across the UK.

Our preliminary trial was successfully completed in 2023 and, as a result, funding was secured for this current, large-scale study.