Lake District coach provides open water swimming tips

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As Christmas approaches many are looking to lose a few pounds to combat the overindulging and good times the festive season brings. According to a new study, swimming outside in the winter could help burn off more calories than other traditional forms of exercise. But could you brave the cold? 

Every January, hundreds of Russians crack open thick river ice and plunge into freezing water – without a wetsuit. 

But for most Brits, as the nights draw in this winter, many find it difficult to head to the gym or take part in a local activity outside, with many favouring a hot drink curled up on the sofa instead. 

However, for those who venture even further – into cold water – it seems they are the ones reaping the weight loss benefits. 

New research has found people who regularly jump into cold water – be it swimming in the sea or a dip in a nearby lake – use more energy to warm themselves up which in turn could help lose weight. 

Calories appear to be burned due to skin temperature rising more quickly than those who do not go wild swimming.

The results showed men who swam in freezing water used up the equivalent of around 500 extra calories per 24 hours more on average than other people.

This was measured by wrapping them in cold blankets and measuring their response.

Dr Camilla Scheele, Senior Author of the study from the University of Copenhagen, explained: “Our results suggest people who swim in cold water train their body to deal differently with colder temperatures.

“As they burn more calories, they are likely to lose weight, which could be good for their health in general, as obesity is a risk factor for so many illnesses.”

Dr Mark Harper, keen sea swimmer and a member of the Outdoor Swimming Society further explained what happens to the body after the initial teeth-chattering few seconds. 

“In cold water, the ribcage contracts, which leads many swimmers to feel as though they can’t breathe,” he told the BBC. 

“Limbs soon become weak, swimming 25 metres can be an achievement, and it only takes a minute or two before the skin becomes a lurid purple-orange-red. 

“That said, the joy of swimming without a wetsuit is the ultimate cold-water high: bringing a rush of endorphins and pure exhilaration. 

“Winter swimmers frequently become addicted, because a two-minute swim can leave you feeling good all day,” he added. 

How does the body respond to cold? 

The human body stays at an average temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. 

When the body becomes too cold several processes are triggered to raise the internal thermostat. 

This includes constriction of blood vessels that flow near the skin’s surface – a process called vasoconstriction – to preserve heat.

Shivering also occurs which burns more energy, and produces more heat.

The metabolism is also raised to help increase the body’s temperature.

Scientists have suggested that regular exposure to cold settings can refine this system, and better adapt the body to lower temperatures in the surrounding environment.

How to begin cold-water swimming 

As with many forms of exercise and the additional shock element, it is important to participate in cold water swimming safely. If you are unsure about whether you should do it, seek medical advice or professional training. 

– Approach it with the same if not more caution as you would beginning a new exercise programme. If you have any health issues, heart or circulatory problems or high blood pressure then consult a GP first and definitely start slowly, and with warmish water before going straight for ice cold winter water!

– Make sure you can swim. It is advised to go with a friend or a group who can swim and look out for each other.

– Start in summer or early autumn when UK sea temperatures are at their warmest around 15-20 degrees Celsius.

– Try swimming in a swimming wetsuit at first to get the feel of it and then maybe reduce down to swimming in only a costume after you’ve been doing it a little while and your body has adapted. There are some great three millimetre thin swimming wetsuits as well as thicker, five millimetre wetsuits for anyone wanting to stay in the water in winter even longer. 

– Start shallow and easy with a simple paddle and dip of your body before fully swimming.

– Go on a calm day if swimming in the sea. The initial few minutes when you may gasp and could inhale water if you are deep or swimming is the risky bit. Relax and just sit or stand in the water calmly with your head above the water for this period. 

– Time yourself for two to three minutes submerged. Start with short periods of time and build up. Once your skin reaches the same temperature as the water you’ll feel warm.

– Swimming in any open water, there are highly visible safety floats on the market which clip around your waist and float alongside you in the water. 

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