If you’re a swimming enthusiast or you’re looking to incorporate some light exercise on your next beach holiday, swimming in the sea might be the perfect activity for you. Outdoor swimming has risen in popularity due to Brits spending more time outdoors during lockdown - and now that temperatures are on the rise due to the summer season, there’s never been a better time to consider taking it up.
And with so many beautiful beaches in the UK to take advantage of - including those that can be explored on one of our Isle of Wight holidays - it’s a good idea to consider which are really best suited to swimming before diving in.
The Vitamin Sea study collates expert advice and data for a selection of the UK’s most popular beaches to reveal the pros and cons of sea swimming, and names the safest shores for doing so, as recommended by the National Trust.
Sea Swimming: The Pros and Cons
As well as being a great way to cool off in the summer sun, sea swimming yields plenty of other benefits when it comes to our mental and physical health. David Sautter, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, says: “Ocean swimming, better known as open-water swimming, is a great way to improve your physical fitness while enjoying the benefits of being outside.” Some of the primary pros of swimming in the sea that he highlights include:
- Improving our cardiovascular health by giving our heart and lungs a workout
- Triggering the release of feel-good dopamine and serotonin for a mood-boosting effect
- Relaxing our muscles as we’re met with less joint stress while underwater as opposed to on land.
Sarah Rose De Vore, Wellness Travel Coach, also highlights the following benefits associated with sea swimming, as she says:
- Swimming in salty water works to increase our iodine levels which is important for healthy thyroid function and immunity.
- Soaking in salt water aids in loosening tense muscles, to alleviate achy muscles, and eases joint pain by reducing inflammation.
- Other benefits of breathing in the salty sea air when by the beach is that it can help ease sinus pressure and improve long-term lung health.
On top of these benefits, Chartered Psychologist Dr Gregory Warwick says that cardiovascular exercise is beneficial in any form due to its impact on our mental wellbeing, adding:
- Swimming in low temperatures triggers our dive response, which slows our heart rate and stress hormone production, in turn reducing anxiety and depression.
- On the whole, cardiovascular exercise is one of the most important factors in relapse prevention when it comes to pre-existing mental health difficulties.
However, for PT David Sautter, it’s also important to properly prepare for swimming in the sea in order to reap the rewards. He advises: “Always check weather reports and ocean conditions before attempting an open-water swim, especially if you’ve never done it before. You can track laps by GPS or you can use the old trick of counting your strokes in a pool for 100 metres and then applying that to the open water swim.
“Breathing in open water is going to require some getting used to. You’ll need to try to experiment with breathing on both sides of the body instead of the one side you're accustomed to. Your body might require some getting used to water temperature so I’d recommend starting out with a wetsuit, which will dramatically cut down on the cold.
“I’d advise building up your endurance in the pool before tackling a lengthy ocean swim. Your swimming workout should begin with a typical 10-minute warm-up and dynamic stretching session. As for the actual exercise, start with 100 metres and work up from there, adding 25 metres (one pool) lap every week or two.
“When you are ready for open-water swimming, start with basic drills such as finding a target for reference and swimming straight to it. Even if the target is only 100 metres away, you’ll find this to be a much more difficult task than you realised.”
When considering taking up sea swimming, it’s important to consider the average temperatures, water quality and suitability of top beaches, to ensure that the transition to open-water swimming goes as seamlessly as possible. We compiled data on recommended beaches to pinpoint the best places in the UK to take up sea swimming.
Sea Swimming: The Best Beaches
With so many stunning coastlines in the UK, it can be tricky knowing where’s best to take up open-water swimming - especially given the unpredictability of waves, tide times and weather.
That’s why we looked at three of the most popular and best-suited beaches in the north and south, pulling together the water temperature, climate temperature and water quality of each to help make your decision easier.
In the north, of the three beaches analysed, it’s Druridge Bay in Northumberland that boasts the best maximum sea temperature, water quality and average daily temperature.
Meanwhile in the south, it was Compton Bay in the Isle of Wight that had the highest temperatures and the best water quality of the beaches we looked at - although water quality on the whole also appeared to be better in the south compared to the north. Water quality is gauged by Public Health England and is presented as a rating out of five.
Swimming in higher quality water is always recommended, while those with lower scores in the study have been recommended for open-water exercise by the National Trust due to other factors like tide frequency, current strength and the availability of lifeguard services.
When it comes to which beaches featured in the study have lifeguards on duty, these include Weymouth Beach in Dorset, Blackpool Sands in Devon, and West Sands in St Andrews. Those without lifeguard services have still been recommended for swimming due to favourable sea conditions, but it’s important to bear in mind that additional support is not available should you need it.
It’s worth noting that you still need to check the weather forecast before committing to swimming in the sea, as the maximum sea temperature refers to the hottest recorded level over the year, and will vary day by day. This is also true of the average daily temperature, which is an annual average and is subject to massive variations each day.
You’ll also need to take into account tide times, as research shows the safest time to swim in the sea is in the hour before and after a high or low tide - known as slack tide - which changes on a daily basis depending on tide times. Slack tide is a period in which the tide is at its weakest and there is the least amount of water movement, which means there’s less resistance for swimmers.
Regardless of whether you want to be by the sea to take up swimming, enjoy a change of scenery or breathe in the cleansing sea air, there are plenty of stunning and exciting beaches in the UK that are waiting to be explored. If you’re looking to enjoy the beaches on the south coast, find your perfect getaway with our Isle of Wight holidays.
Key sources used in the study include seatemperature.org, tideschart.com, ahrefs and tourism sites. Expert comments were provided exclusively for use in the Vitamin Sea study.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.