In at the cold end

In at the cold end

Regular wild swimmer and journalist Lorraine Candy explains what makes her dive into freezing water for fun.

In between the duties of domestic life, family life and work life, I regularly carve out a small pocket of time for a mini adventure. I’m fortunate enough to have discovered some delicious moments of calm in the hurly burly of being a responsible grown-up, for cold water swimming has been my midlife saviour. At least twice a week, I swim outdoors in lakes, unheated lidos or the sea. I swim throughout the year, come rain or shine, and usually without a wetsuit. Well I say swim, when the water drops below ten degrees, it’s more a quick dip. I discovered wild swimming when I took part in a mini-triathlon five years ago aged 47. I had to swim 800 metres in a wetsuit in a lake in May. I learnt front crawl to take part and, during the training, I fell in love with ‘skins swimming’ (no wetsuit). Now I’m addicted to cold water immersion and the camaraderie of the supportive community around it.

What other sport can you do where everyone is keeping an eye out for you, checking you’re OK rather than asking about lap times or lengths? Where you can be any shape or size to take part and can keep doing it well into old age? I’m not a technically gifted swimmer, slow compared to most, but that doesn’t matter, you don’t even have to put your face in the water to reap the rewards of this hobby. I just love the way my whole body tingles and fizzes after a cold dip, the way I
feel so alive and relentlessly well for days afterwards. And it helped enormously with the insomnia I experienced when I went through the peri-menopause. Indeed, the mental and physical health benefits have been much documented. The shock of entering cold water puts your body into fight or flight mode, and the more you do it, the more it learns to deal with the stress of that, reducing inflammation and promoting a stronger immune system.

People who suffer from depression and anxiety report that it aids recovery, and indeed, I have met many outdoor swimmers who attribute their salvation to the restorative powers of cold water. For me, it’s like meditation, and when I have faced challenges, either at work or parenting my four children, I often swim my fears and worries away. ‘Take it to lake,’ is what they say. And the confidence I have learnt from knowing how to moderate my breath in the icy temperatures is something I rely on during stressful times out of the water. Now a new study currently being carried out by Cambridge University at the lido where I regularly swim in North London shows it could help delay the onset of dementia. It’s an activity that combines all the ingredients we know are necessary for health and happiness: friendship, nature and gentle, regular exercise.


You need to start slowly though, because your body temperature continues to drop after you’ve left the water and that can be dangerous. I always advise beginning with a few cold showers for a week then dipping into the water for just minutes at a time, but never alone. It takes a while to build up tolerance and everyone’s limits are different. The Outdoor Swimmer magazine website is the font of all knowledge on safety, and you must research swim spots with care. I’m not going to lie, the first few moments are unbearable, but I’m always as reluctant to get out as I am to go in. And wild swimming has gifted me some of my life’s most amazing and treasured memories. Three years ago, my swim friends and I tackled the 70km Lake Geneva in a relay. It took us 30 hours non-stop. So nowadays, whenever I lack confidence or feel a little low, I remember that cool morning when I swam in the shadow of the Alps as the sun rose above me.

Lorraine Candy’s book What’s Wrong with You?: 101 Things Only Mothers of Girls Know: How to Survive the Tweens to the Twenties is available on Amazon and Waterstones now.

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