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University of Portsmouth Initiates Study on Impact of Open Water Swimming on Depression

28th July 2022
Sea swimmers at the Forty Foot on Dublin Bay
Sea swimmers at the Forty Foot bathing place on Dublin Bay Credit: Afloat

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth have initiated a study to determine if open water swimming has an impact on depression.

The researchers are seeking people in Britain to take part in the randomised control trial, where some participants will be offered a swimming course.

They will then be compared to a control group receiving their usual care for depression.

The University of Portsmouth team is working with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust on the study.

“Ecotherapy - offering therapeutic intervention in nature – is known to benefit mood,” the research team says.

“There is also emerging evidence to suggest that regular open water bathing could have a positive impact on a person’s mental health. Immersion in cold water gradually reduces stress levels in everyday life and generates a greater sense of wellbeing,” it says.

“The first aim of this project is to see if people will sign up to take part and also whether they remain engaged in the study to the end,” the team says.

“The second is to determine if those with mild to moderate depression benefit from an outdoor swimming course and explore reasons why any changes occur,” it says.

Dr Heather Massey of the university’s department of sport, health and exercise science says the aim is to offer a “streamlined study in more locations that more closely analyses the impact of the outdoor swimming course, the cost-benefit of the activity, and importantly if it helps people to recover, whom it works for and why”.

The researchers note that depression and anxiety in Britain are at “an all-time high, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“However, despite the increasing numbers of newly-trained NHS talking therapists, demand and waiting times continue to grow,” they say.

The study is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and follows a small-scale study conducted last summer, the results of which are due to be published in the coming months.

Anyone interested in taking part in the study can email [email protected] for more information.

Published in Sea Swim, Marine Science
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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