Do you get up at dawn, head down to your nearest beach and plunge into the sea each day, whatever the weather – and all for the good of your health?
If you do, you’re hardy. But you may also be wanted for a pioneering scientific study that aims to identify whether there are measurable biological changes in the human body after dipping in cold water.
Wild swimming has surged in popularity across the UK in recent years, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the physical and mental health benefits are well-documented.
Studies have shown this type of swimming – in cold water, in a natural environment – boost mood and reduce stress, negativity and depression.
But biomedical science student Bridie Hodgson, herself a keen wild swimmer, wants to understand any physical impacts from exposure to cold water, particularly in women of a certain age.
Now in the final year of her degree course at the University of Sunderland, Ms Hodgson has just completed a study of saliva samples taken from wild swimmers before and after a dip to check for biomarkers that might point to changes in the body as a result.
Spit samples were provided by members of the Wild Sea Women swimming group at Seaburn beach, a seaside resort in Sunderland, then analysed in the university’s labs.
It’s the first time the effects of cold water exposure have been tested in this way.
Though results from the experiments failed to reveal significant changes in the women’s bio-markers, Ms Hodgson is now seeking to expand the project to study a much larger number of people – including wild swimmers in Scotland – as part of a master’s degree.
The new project will look at women who are going through menopause, checking for biomarkers linking environmental exposures, human biology and disease.
“This is a terrific opportunity to undertake some very fascinating work, and the University of Sunderland has allowed me to put the skills I've learned over the previous three years into practice,” Ms Hodgson said. “Our next step is to pursue a master's degree in September with a similar project.”
Biosciences lecturer Dr Katrin Jaedicke, who collaborated on the study, said: “Clearly there are changes taking place in the physical and mental well-being of these women, and this needs further investigation.”
Hayley Dorian, who set up Wild Sea Women in 2020, added: “It has been a privilege and such a fantastic opportunity to work alongside the science team at the University of Sunderland to help with their incredibly interesting research.
“Although it would have been great for us all to see some tangible proof of the benefits of going into the sea from this particular project, we know from our own personal experience that the sea improves our health in ways we may never understand.”
Wild Sea Women began in Sunderland in June 2020, with just a handful of women keen to connect and get in the sea together to boost their health and well-being.
Since then the group has taken off, with 12,000 members across the north-east of England and Scotland. North of the border, groups meet at Barassie, Portobello, North Berwick, Troon and Irvine beaches.