Londoners are spending weekends in ice cold bins as they can’t go wild swimming

Endorphin highs, increased libido levels, enhanced circulation, better immunity, increased calorie burn, stress reduction.

These are just a few of the many benefits of cold -water swimming, so it’s no wonder the sport’s popularity has sky-rocketed over the past few years.

Magazine Science Focus described the incredible effect cold water immersion has been found to have on the body’s stress response.

The article said the body’s ‘cold shock’ response to the icy temperature produces an adrenaline-charge ‘fight or flight’ response.

At first this causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol, but this is then followed by a release of endorphins which create a sense of euphoria.

Chat to any outdoor-swimming groups and you’ll quickly realise how many members swear by the mental health benefits of an icy dip.

Take the Beckenham Bobbers for example.

They are an established group ‘for all the Bobbers who love swimming down at the lake at Beckenham Place Park’ in Bromley, many of whom say they rely on outdoor-swimming for their mental health.

With increased immersions, your body learns to adjust more quickly to the stress response, with less panic and more controlled breathing, which scientists think could also make you less reactive to everyday psychological stress.

Bonnie Adair, a member of the Beckenham Bobbers, about to take an icy plunge in the swimming lake at Beckenham Place Park
(Image: Bonnie Adair)

So, with public outdoor swimming off the cards for the foreseeable, how are the group getting their cold water fix?

Well, there are some wacky techniques, that’s for sure.

Lucy Ashdown-Parkes, 45, is a swimming teacher and coach from Caterham in Surrey, who has been passionate about open water swimming for several years.

In 2020 Lucy successfully swam the English Channel solo.

Now she is training to swim the North Channel, from Ireland to Scotland.

This probably wasn’t what Lucy’s local council had in mind for her wheelie bin…
(Image: Lucy Ashdown-Parkes)

Lucy said: “Temperatures will be lower than the English Channel and I need to be comfortable in the cold.

“I normally swim train in Dover, Brighton, Tooting Bec lido and local lakes.

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“With lockdown exercise local rule I’ve had to switch to land based training of running, rowing, static bike, strength work and ten daily mini dips in my wheelie bin – I’m out in all weathers!”

Rachel Moss, 46, from West Norwood in South East London, has loved swimming outdoors ever since she was a kid – but this is her first year swimming outside through the winter.

Rachel Moss takes the plunge twice a week, in a children’s swimming pool in her back garden
(Image: Rachel Moss)

Rachel was swimming in Beckenham Place Park Lake until the latest lockdown – she even swam there on Christmas and New Years Day.

She said: “With all the stresses of the pandemic and two family bereavements last year I find the cold water clears my head.

“I am missing the lake so much and look forward to when it reopens but in the meanwhile I’m taking a dip in a kid’s pool in my garden twice a week.

“I swim on a tether attached to the fence.”

Rachel is raising money for Crisis as part of their DIY Icy Challenge.

And LJ Stacey, 30, a TV producer living in Bromley, near Beckenham Place Park, was feeling lost in 2020 until she discovered cold water swimming.

After losing her Dad last January, LJ was feeling homesick for her family back in Northern Ireland and was struggling to find work during the pandemic.

Taking advantage of the weather, LJ has taken to bikini-dancing in the snow in lieu of cold water swimming
(Image: L.J. Stacey)

Then she heard about the pond in Beckenham Place Park near her house, and went to check it out one day last summer.

But LJ said it was when the weather turned colder that she became ‘addicted.’

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She said: “There is something about swimming outside in the wild, amongst nature that is just so calming.

“The buzz of the cold water, the sense of achievement you feel for the rest of the day, it is second to none.”

LJ said she has struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, and 2020 compounded this, but she said there is something about the cold water that she finds instantly soothing.

“The rest of the noise of London, and my own head stops for a bit and I feel like I can finally breathe,” she said.

LJ said being without the pond in the latest lockdown ‘has been really hard,’ and she’s missing socialising with the other swimmers and the lifeguards.

However, she’s found some other ways to get her cold water hit.

She said: “A hot bath followed by a cold shower gets the blood pumping.

“I have also started running a few times a week – I just completed the NHS couch to 5k, and I’ve loved running in a t-shirt in the cold rain.”

LJ said she’s also been taking advantage of the snow, which she said ‘turns her into a child.’

She said: “I have been dancing in it in my bikini, and my nightie anytime I get the chance, much to my partners disgust.

“It’s not quite the lake, but it will do for now.”

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My London – Bromley