Have you wondered why so many people are sea swimming these days? The onset of Covid19 was certainly a factor, whereby people reconnected with nature and the sea.  But the reasons why so many people continue to take a daily dip in the sea, are more intriguing.

Ever heard of the vagus nerve?  If not, don’t worry you are not alone.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and plays a crucial role in regulating many bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, and respiratory function. It is also involved in the body’s stress response and relaxation.

When we go swimming in the sea, the vagus nerve gets stimulated in more ways than one.

Here’s how sea swimming can stimulate the vagus nerve:

1. Cold Water Exposure: The cold water stimulates the vagus nerve, triggering a response that helps regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. This response can promote relaxation and reduce stress levels.

2. Deep Breathing: When you swim in cold water, you may naturally take deep breaths in response to the shock of the cold. Deep breathing activates the vagus nerve and can help induce a state of calm and relaxation.

3. Increased Oxygen Intake: Swimming in the sea allows you to breathe in fresh, clean air, which can increase your oxygen intake. Higher oxygen levels in the body can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote a sense of well-being.

4. Connection with Nature: Being in nature, especially in the calming environment of the sea, can have a positive impact on your mental health. The combination of the soothing sounds, the rhythmic movement of the water, and the sense of connection with nature can activate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.

5. Stress Reduction: Sea swimming can help reduce stress levels by providing a break from daily routines and allowing you to focus on the present moment. This shift in attention can activate the vagus nerve and promote a sense of calm.

If you have braved the cold waters around Ireland, you will notice how good you feel when you get out.

Why is this so?

If you’ve ever braved a dip in cold water, you’re likely familiar with the phenomenon known as cold water shock. It begins with an involuntary gasp, followed by rapid breathing as your body tries to adjust. Adrenaline surges through your system, causing your heart to race and a sense of panic to set in. Unbeknownst to you, your blood pressure skyrockets and your body releases glucose and fats into your bloodstream, priming you with energy for a potential quick escape.

This instinctual response is commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight reaction. Simultaneously, cortisol, a stress hormone, is released by your adrenal glands, keeping your body in this heightened state for minutes to hours.

Additionally, a surge of beta-endorphin hormones in the brain provides natural pain relief and induces a blissful sense of euphoria.

It’s important to note that sea swimming may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain medical conditions or sensitivities to cold water. If you’re considering sea swimming as a way to stimulate the vagus nerve, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified swimming instructor to ensure it’s safe for you.

Remember, the vagus nerve is just one aspect of overall well-being, and it’s always beneficial to incorporate a holistic approach to self-care, including exercise, healthy eating, and stress management techniques. Contact me if I can help you in any of these areas.