Meet the 50-plus women taking the plunge: ‘Cold water swimming has changed our lives!’

Cold water swimming isn’t just a sport for the super fit – meet two 50-plus women who say it has massively improved their mental and physical health

mature wild swimmer

by yours |
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Even if you’re not the most adventurous of dippers, chances are you’ve heard of wild or cold water swimming. Once the exclusive domain of elite athletes, celebrity Channel swimmers and brave folk taking a traditional New Year’s Day dip, open water swimming has surged in popularity over the past few years, with increasing numbers of women taking to the water for the health and wellbeing benefits.

Even celebrities are taking the plunge; presenter Kate Humble and TV stylist Susannah Constantine are passionate wild swimmers, with Kate describing her daily dip as, “very therapeutic”.

Pauline Eddishaw (70), from Kirkby in Ashfield, swims at a lake near Hoveringham, about an hour’s drive from her home. “I’ve been swimming there for about 18 months,” she says. “I was keen to do it so I Googled it and looked for the nearest place.”

Pauline Eddishaw

Pauline swims from March until September, through an organisation called, which runs open water swimming sites in the UK. “It’s well staffed, they ask you how far you think you might swim and then note it down,” Pauline explains, adding: “There’s someone on a kayak who travels round to check you’re OK!”

New swimmers have to wear a buoy for safety reasons, but: “Once you’re confident, as long as you wear a very brightly coloured hat and wave if you’re in trouble, you’ll be fine.” While some swimmers opt for wetsuits, Pauline wears a costume and a pair of swimming shoes for getting in and out of the lake. “I take a warm dressing gown with a hood and just put that on when I’ve finished,” she says. “I travel home with the heating on in the car and it’s quite cosy.”

Although Pauline loves the water she doesn’t class herself as a serious swimmer. “I just do my breaststroke; I’m not very fast. Even though I go on my own, you chat to people there and everyone’s very friendly.”

As much as Pauline goes for the physical aspects, it’s the mental side where she’s seen the biggest difference. “I feel wonderful afterwards! You feel so invigorated – it definitely gets rid of any brain fog. At my age it’s quite an achievement to have done it, really. “I don’t know if it’s the cold water, but when I get out, it’s like all my worries have gone; all you’ve thought about is how you’re going to get round. I like to push myself, I take my time, but I’m determined to do it. I just feel this great sense of achievement afterwards.”

Gilly Waddell (61), grew up in North Berwick, where she spent her childhood swimming in the North Sea. “You could say I’m used to the rigours of cold water swimming,” she says. “I don’t swim every day but it’s been a hugely important part of my life.” Nowadays Gilly lives in London but still gets her cold water fix at Tooting Lido, a 100m swimming pool where temperatures start at a balmy ten degrees in the winter months. “People of all ages and walks of life come,” she says.

Gilly Waddell

“You don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer, you can just come for a splash. It’s relaxing; I do breaststroke and find it very peaceful.”

Like Pauline, it’s as much about the mental as the physical side for Gilly. “Being in cold water is very stimulating and invigorating. It keeps you sharp, heightens your senses and you feel less slothful.”

She also likes the meditative effects. “It allows you time to think about different things and the water takes your weight, so it’s not like running where some people might find it difficult. People talk about ‘the glow’ afterwards, you just feel alive.”

There are also the social benefits. “It’s a new adventure for women, and particularly something we saw during Covid,” says Gilly, who also works with the Outdoors Swimming Society. “What I love about swimming is that’s it’s not an exclusive sport. You don’t have to have all of the kit, all you need to do is get into a body of water and get past the cold bit! You get a big kick out of it. It’s quite an empowering thing, you think: ‘I can do this.’ There are lots of benefits, but most of all, it’s fun!”

Why is cold water swimming good for you?

Alice Goodridge, from SwimWild, is an open-water swimming coach and says the pastime has huge benefits for our mental health. “It’s like hitting a reset button, it’s very mindful. You might feel stressed or anxious, but when you get in the water you have to focus on your breathing and what you’re doing. Everything else goes away. You’re immersing yourself in nature, watching the ripples on the surface or a passing flock of birds. You get an amazing rush of endorphins, even after just a short dunk.”

New research also shows that cold water swimming can help with the menopause, from improving mood states to boosting the lymphatic system and easing vascular stiffness, which occurs with a drop in oestrogen levels.

If you like the sound of the above but want to just 'dip your toe' into the benefits of cold water then a great place to start is to try a cold therapy tub. You'll reap all the physical and mental benefits of cold water therapy but the comfort of your own home.

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