Sea swimming is my salvation in my battle with Long Covid

Usually an occasional summer swimmer, AILIN QUINLAN relented and tried a dip in the sea in winter - it was invigorating, she says
Sea swimming is my salvation in my battle with Long Covid

“Into the water. It was fabulous. Nobody started doing Olympic-standard over-arm strokes to the far side of the bay.” iStock

IT’S not just the camaraderie of the other women laughing around me, their wet hair streaming with sea-water as they towel themselves down; it’s not only the flasks of tea and coffee and the biscuits or the buttered scones. All of that is utterly crucial. You couldn’t do without that.

But, for me, some of the biggest things are the first crash of a wave hitting my chest, the salt-water in my eyes and hair, and most of all the sudden shrieking immersion in the icy cold of a rough winter sea, under the indifferent gaze of nearby bobbing seagulls.

Sea swimming? Are you kidding?

I was at most an occasional swimmer. In July and August. If the weather was hot and the sea wasn’t too cold. And that was it.

Last March, I straggled back to work on the heels of six months of debilitating illness after contracting Covid in October, 2021.

When I was casually invited along to join a weekly group who went dipping outside in the summer months, I just laughed. Hopelessly. Thanks, I said, but no thanks. I had Long Covid, my muscles were wasted and flabby and I was just about barely making it through the working day.

The extra physical effort involved in struggling into a pair of togs and driving out to a small, picturesque cove to go swimming was a step too far.

“We don’t swim,” they explained, “we just dip.”

Made no difference. It was home to bed and a sleep for me straight after work. I shuddered every time I saw the group heading out to dip in the sea late on freezing spring afternoons. Not a hope.

June danced in. “Come on,” they said kindly, “it’ll do you the world of good.” Different people in the group explained about the tea and coffee, the camaraderie and the chats, the invigorating release of jumping into the sea and, most of all, since I had Long Covid, the health benefits.

“No thanks,” I said again. I had no energy to do anything other than go home and make the dinner before slipping, with enormous relief, into bed. Come September, they mentioned it again.“Give it a shot,” they urged.

“I can’t stand wet-suits,” I said. None of them wore wetsuits, they said. They all just wore their togs.

it was a warm month, and on top of being tired all the time, I felt hot and cross. My hair was sweaty. Beads of perspiration dampened the hair at the back of my neck and ran down my back. “Maybe,” I said reluctantly.

I could stay quiet, watch what everyone else did and not make a fool of myself; my muscles were still flabby and wasted from the months of Long Covid-induced inertia. I had no idea what dipping meant.

“Is it, like, wild-swimming?” I asked someone. I’d seen an episode of Shetland during which a group of island residents went wild swimming into deep water and someone had had some kind of fit and nearly drowned. She laughed. “Nothing like that. Our aim is just to stay in for three minutes.”

Hmm, I thought. In the end, I went. I made sure to arrive with my togs already on, to pack an enormous dry-robe to change under, and a baggy fleece and stretchy yoga pants to change into. Nobody was going to see my Covid fat bubbles, that’s for sure.

Into the water. It was fabulous.

Nobody started doing Olympic-standard over-arm strokes to the far side of the bay. Nobody did fancy dives or somersaults in the water. Mostly they just bobbed around, still within their depth, only a few feet from the shore.

I was one of the last to get out of the water. And as we toweled off and revived ourselves with a cup of tea and a biscuit, I thought; maybe I’ll do this next week. I felt invigorated.

“You’re looking mighty chipper,” my husband said when I got home and went upstairs to shower the sand out of my ears. “You should keep this up.”

My sister-in-law advised me to get gloves, bootees and a cap and something to wear in the water over the togs. I did.

I still struggled with fatigue but I kept dipping. Increasingly, I didn’t shower the sea-water off ’til the next morning.

It’s now December and, despite the interruptions caused by the terrible weather, and in my case, sickness, of recent weeks, the plan is to keep going.

Here are some of the scientifically-proven benefits of sea-swimming, most of which I have experienced. If you have Long Covid and know somebody to dip with, it’s definitely worth a shot:

(1) Swimming in the sea improves your immune system.

This is because the cold water boosts your white blood cell count as the body is forced to react to the changed conditions.

(2) Swimming in the sea gives you an endorphin rush – it boosts your feel-good hormones and makes you feel invigorated.

(3) Seawater is rich in magnesium. It helps release stress, relax your muscles. It also contributes to better sleep.

I read somewhere that it can spiritually cleanse your aura which means it basically makes you feel better.

(4) It’s good for you skin.

Because seawater is rich in vitamins and minerals like sodium, calcium, chloride and sulphate and again, magnesium, which apparently have a role as natural skin cosmetics.

(5) Plunging into a winter sea shocks the body and forces all the worries out of your head.

The only thing you can think about is what you are doing at that very moment.

(6) Swimming makes you happier.

Research commissioned by the Swim England organisation found that, when asked about the impact swimming has on their daily lives, 43% of people who swim regularly said it makes them feel happier, 26% said they feel more motivated to complete daily tasks while 15% said they find life more manageable.

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