Why Going For A Swim in the Ocean Can Be Good For You and For Nature

Posted by on January 5, 2021 in Healing & Natural Remedies, Health with 0 Comments
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Summer is the season when we like to cool off with a plunge into the water. For some, it’s in the local or backyard swimming pool, but others prefer the saltwater of the ocean.

Sometimes referred to as “wild swimming”, it is happening at many of the beaches, coves, bays, or estuaries in Australia.

But wild swimming is not only good for our health, but it can also be good for ocean and beach ecologies too.

A healthy ocean plunge

Annual competitive ocean swims, such as the Byron Bay Winter Whales and the Bondi to Bronte, are a mainstay of many Australian coastal towns and city suburbs. Daily and weekly recreational swimming groups are also well established at many of our beaches.

In European cultures, immersion in saltwater has long been believed to be good for human health and seaside resorts there remain popular.

Ocean swimmers often wax lyrical about the health and wellbeing benefits they get from their regular ocean swims. And research from both the humanities and sciences backs up these claims.

It’s common to hear swimmers describe their troubles and anxieties washing away in the water. As a daily cleansing, they emerge from their swim feeling energized, calm, and ready to face their days.

Journalist and broadcaster Julia Baird has written about how her daily swims in Sydney inspire a sense of awe that shifts how she navigates other challenges in her life.

Other research talks about swimming as a process of “therapeutic accretion” whereby the pleasures of our regular short dips and longer swims in the ocean layer onto us and “build to develop a resilient wellbeing”.


In the UK, online movements such as #risefierce and Mental Health Swims promote regular swimming as a positive practice for our health and wellbeing.

Part of this is accepting that ocean conditions can change day today. Some days are calm and clear, others are wild with waves and winds. If we want to swim, we have to learn to navigate the conditions we are dealt with.

This capacity for decision-making in the face of challenge is helpful for a sense of confidence and resilience – something that has been clear during COVID-19 lockdowns around the world.

Encounters with the wild

For swimmers, the water offers other rewards.

Swimming, like other ocean sports like surfing and diving, is a way of immersing us in ecologies and bringing us into contact with animals, plants, weather, waves, and rocks in a way that we cannot control.

We may encounter fish, birds, rays, turtles, cephalopods, and other animals. All are reported to help with a sense of wellbeing. This highlights how we are part of these ecologies too.

The recent film My Octopus Teacher resonated with many people who swim and who regularly encounter the same animals.

Some swimmers even relate the effect of swimming to animals that live in oceans. In a study on swimming in the UK, one swimmer explained how they “went in like a cranky sea lion and came out like a smiling dolphin”.

Care for the oceans

Being part of ecology means we have responsibilities too. In Australia, we need to take a lead from Indigenous Australian people to care for the sea country we swim in.

Ocean plastics, sewage, and the antibiotics in agricultural run-off are a potential problem for our health as we swim in polluted oceans.

Our encounters with animals that live close to shore can impact their health too, so we need to remember to respect their space.

We need to be careful in our encounters with wild animals as we swim in ocean waters.

Many cultures are aware of the interconnections between people and the environments they live in. For example, Native Hawaiian and Māori researchers write about their links to oceans, and the Ama women in Japan connect with underwater soundscapes as they dive for abalone.

In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are deeply aware of the connections between the health of people and the land, sea, and sky countries they live on.

People cannot be healthy if a Country is not healthy, nor can a Country be healthy if people are not.

And that’s why wild swimming could be good for ocean and beach ecologies too. The more we learn about the health and wellbeing impacts of the ocean and coastal ecologies, the more we should feel invested in taking care of them.

Let’s swim together

The lack of control we have over conditions in ocean waters can be frightening, and the same encounters that thrill some people are terrifying for others.

Even for experienced swimmers, drowning is a very real risk. Between July 2019 and June 2020, 248 people drowned in Australia, with 125 of those coastal drowning deaths.

For others, their fear of shark attacks and encounters is enough to keep them out of ocean water.

So if you want t


o give the ocean a try this summer, many people find comfort and safety by wild swimming with others. This is reflected in the growth of swimming groups.

Websites such as oceanswims.com and Swim Sisters list ocean swimming groups and competition swims around Australia. It’s easy to find information through your local community too.

Swimming in the sea can be as simple as taking that first plunge in knee-deep water, or as challenging as an hours-long marathon along the coast. Whatever you prefer, take the time to enjoy being immersed in a watery world.

You’re never too old (and it’s never too cold).

By Rebecca Olive | The Conversation

Rebecca Olive is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences at The University of Queensland, where she researches recreational and nature-based lifestyle sports and physical activities. Her ARC DECRA project, ‘Moving Oceans', focuses on how participation in ocean sports orients participants' pieces of knowledge and ethics in relation to the ocean and coastal ecologies. Her work uses ethnographic methods, including participation and interviews, and includes online spaces, such as Instagram and Facebook.

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