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The Reader: Wild swimming is the way to boost our health

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Yesterday, I swam in a pond with a kingfisher under a morning moon. I was euphoric the whole day, buffered against the stress of urban life. As a psychologist, I hope people have been led to Hampstead Ponds by the recognition that wild swimming might improve their mental and physical health. For this reason, the ponds should be accessible to all.

The ponds are worthy of investment as a resource to improve London’s well-being: the upcoming review should focus on equal access, rather than contributing to already-rising health inequalities by pricing them out of the reach of many people.

Puffin O’Hanlon 

We are surprisingly well served for swimming spots in London, and as we realise the benefits of a chilly paddle, lidos and lakes are becoming busier. Many were set up when the Thames became too polluted for swimmers. Outdoor swimming is enjoying a moment, so let’s think of more ways to open up the water.

The London Waterkeeper campaign is trying to put our river on a par with other European city waters, which are clean enough for a proper swimming culture to have taken hold. Cold-water swimming is highly addictive: the more places to do it, the happier Londoners will be.

Isabel Hardman

Editor's reply

Dear Puffin and Isabel,

As you say, there is nothing like a dip in an exhilaratingly icy body of water to give your body and mind a reboot. At £2 entry, subsidised by the City of London Corporation, swimming in Hampsteads' Ponds is one of the cheapest thrills in the capital — but because paying is by “honesty box” many get away with going for free. I’m ashamed to say it but I rarely have £2 in change. A contactless card machine like buskers now use would be an easy way to fix this; ensuring lifeguards are properly paid and the pond maintained. As it is, the Heath is hard to reach by public transport and rudimentary changing rooms with only one warm shower deters many. Upping the price risks making it seem more exclusive, and is futile if no one will pay anyway.

If you want to learn more about the mental and physical health benefits related to open water swimming and cold exposure, feel free to join our ICEWIM Facebook group.

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