Open Water Swimming: Benefits and Risks
A study published in PLOS ONE on August 28, 2023, titled Self-reported benefits and risks of open water swimming to health, wellbeing and the environment: Cross-sectional evidence from a survey of Scottish swimmers , investigated the patterns and trends in the perceived benefits and risks of open water swimming to both public health and the environment. The study used a national-scale online survey of 717 open water swimmers.
The study found strong associations between the most important self-reported benefit associated with open water swimming and both participant age and the categorisation of their typical swim style. All but one of the age-groups surveyed perceived mental wellbeing benefits to be the most important benefit of open water swimming; whilst those aged over 65 identified physical rather than mental wellbeing benefits to be the most important outcome.
Participants who preferred lake swimming reported greater concern regarding possible environmental damage caused by the increasing popularity of open water swimming compared to those engaging in river or sea swimming. However, the majority of participants perceived the risks to the environment from open water swimming to be minimal.
The study adds to the growing evidence that open water swimming is perceived by participants as benefitting their mental and physical wellbeing. Improved understanding of the benefits and risks of engaging with blue spaces used for open water swimming can contribute to co-designed policy development to promote safer, healthier and more sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities associated with this increasingly popular outdoor pursuit.