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Does experiencing 'blue pill' bring welcome cold comfort?

Washed Up column, by Sarah Juggins, Tuesday, January 19, 2021

First it was communing with trees, then it was just being outdoors walking, now it is the turn of water to offer a panacea to all our ills.

The ‘blue pill’ as it is fast becoming known, is the belief that being in or near water can have a hugely positive benefit on your mental and physical health.

Wild swimming has so many benefits for body and mind some say
Wild swimming has so many benefits for body and mind some say

It has been quite amusing to watch various television presenters immersing themselves in cold water over the past few weeks as various lifestyle programmes and news shows have lined up to explode this latest health story.

The two latest presenters/celebrities to immerse themselves in icy cold, January water were Rick Stein on his current show about the beauty of Cornwall and Tom Heap, who was clearly highly uncomfortable – not to mention freezing – as he tried to master surfing on a giant wave machine.

It is fair to say that Rick more than held his own with the insanely chirpy swimming group he met up with.

As I write this, I can’t stop the little hint of scepticism creeping into the article. I have no doubt that swimming in bracing cold water is good for you – but in much the same way any form of physical activity is good for you.

By the same token, plunging into a cold river or sea when you are unprepared is very bad for you – much in the same way, going for a 10k run after years of not running can be very bad for you.

The fact that UK Coastguard has issued guidelines on cold water swimming after an 80 per cent rise in swimming related incidents in recent months should act as some sort of warning about the dangers of swimming in the sea.

Cold water shock is one of the biggest causes of swimmers getting into trouble. The shock of cold water can catch even the fittest people off guard.

It’s not just the claims about the health benefits of being active around water that are raising questions. One of the claims made about the benefits of the ‘blue pill’ is that people living by the sea or by a body of inland water are happier and healthier.

I’m not so sure about this.

Many of the best television programmes in recent years were set by the sea. I’m thinking Broadchurch, Liar, The Bay. They are all set by the coast and there isn’t a happy character in any of them. These grey, dismal coastal towns are just the perfect settings for heinous crime. They are hardly good for your mental state.

Having said all of that. On Christmas Day I watched a man walk onto Thornham beach, strip down to his shorts, stride purposefully into the sea and dunk his body in the icy-cold water.

He then turned and strode out back to his towel. He didn’t even hurry.

His skin was a bright pink and he had a marvellously wide grin on his face. The handful of dog-walking onlookers gave him a cheer – if the ‘blue pill’ brigade wanted a perfect advocate for cold water swimming then I guess this was it.

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