Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
12:00 AM 8th June 2024

Healthy Heart Tip: Is Open Water Swimming Good For Your Heart?

Heart Research UK Healthy Heart Tip, written by the Health Promotion and Education Team at Heart Research UK

Open water swimming is becoming increasingly popular with almost three million people taking part in the UK. But what is it? Open water swimming takes place anywhere outdoors that isn’t a swimming pool. This includes lakes, rivers, lochs, seas and reservoirs, all places where there are no man-made sides or bottoms and no lane ropes for you to follow.

Swimming in general is one of the most common forms of physical activity and it is a great workout for your heart. But is open water swimming good for your heart too? Here we look at the benefits and risks of open water swimming and how to stay safe out there.

The benefits

Swimming in general is a great form of aerobic exercise that requires muscular strength and endurance. By adding in the challenges of the open waters varying conditions, it becomes a more intense workout that requires your heart to engage differently with each swim.

Open water swimming has been found to reduce your risk of heart disease through improvements in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and inflammation when practised regularly. It is also an effective weight management method that can help to reduce your body fat.

Due to the horizontal swimming position, your heart must pump blood against gravity, meaning it works harder to get oxygenated blood to your extremities. This means that your heart gets stronger and open water swimming can help improve your circulation.

Being outside in nature and open water can help to reduce stress, anxiety and improve your mood. Submerging your body in cold water can boost your dopamine levels and release endorphins. This has also been found to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and so improve the quality of your sleep.

The risks

By submerging yourself into cold water, your blood vessels narrow, and your heart rhythm becomes disturbed. This can put your body into shock and can cause a cardiac arrest. Always try to submerge your body gradually and try to control your breathing.

If you swim in cold water for a prolonged period or are exposed to cold air, then you are at risk of hypothermia. Once you exit the water, your body temperature will continue to cool so make sure you get dry and changed as quickly as possible. If you have a heart condition or high blood pressure, then the increased work rate on your heart could be dangerous. Make sure you check with your GP before taking part.

How to stay safe

Swimming in open water can be dangerous, especially if you are new to the sport or have an underlying health condition. Make sure you never swim on your own, always go with friends or join a group. This way you have people to look out for you, and you can enjoy the benefits of socialising.

Make sure you wear the correct equipment; this will help to keep you safe, warm, and visible. A brightly coloured swimming cap, goggles and wetsuit are essential.

The colder the water is, the less time you should spend in it. Make sure you spend the right amount of time in the water if you’re in it for too long you’re risking your health.

If you begin to feel unwell at all whilst you’re swimming, get out immediately, get warm and seek help.

Heart Research UK
Proud to stand out from the crowd, Heart Research UK is the charity dedicated to your heart. They inspire and invest in pioneering medical research, ground-breaking training and education, and in communities to improve their heart health for themselves. For over 50 years they have driven advancements in the prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease to benefit patients as soon as possible.