Today we will talk about the peculiarities of swimming in the sea, but first, we will briefly review the benefits of swimming in general. You will learn that there is a lot more to it.
Our heart works very comfortably in the water for several reasons. We swim in a horizontal position without the weight of gravity, which allows the blood to circulate from end to end without over-exertion of the cardiocirculatory system.
On the other hand, the upper body does most of the work, so overall, the heart has to “work” less to send blood to the muscles being exercised.
This does not mean that the heart doesn’t work but that it does so more comfortably. On the other hand, immersion produces a slight heart expansion that increases the cardiac output (the volume of blood expelled to the muscles).
Swimming is a very “efficient” sport. With little joint wear and low injury risk, it works the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and the musculature.
In the water, muscles work five to six times harder than out of the water because they encounter greater resistance to movement but without impact. Not the case with your usual runs.
Running is a great cardiovascular exercise also, but the negative impact on our joints and the risk of injury and overload is much higher.
You may want to read: What Muscles Does Running Work? A Complete Guide to Running
In addition to toning and increasing muscle mass and strength, the body acquires greater mobility and elasticity. Swimming allows you to exercise your joints, increasing their flexibility and range of motion.
Swimming is a good sport to relax body and mind. In fact, it has been demonstrated that swimming has hypnotic effects. The silence and the fact of not interacting with the outside when you submerge in the water added to the cyclical movement and the monotonous vision of the bottom are very similar to hypnosis.
Swimming is one of the best sports for the brain from all points of view. In addition to having antidepressant, relaxing, and stress-relieving effects, it improves intellectual capacities and alertness.
It increases the ability to concentrate, improves brain fog, and has a faster reaction time in and out of the water. Swimming keeps your head sharp in all aspects.
Swimming in the sea: Benefits & hazards
Seawater contains minerals such as iodine, sodium, potassium, zinc, and others. When your body comes into contact with salt water, the skin absorbs all of them.
These minerals have anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic effects for the skin and respiratory tract, effects that are of great benefit for the healing and scarring of wounds.
Even without the need to touch the water, the sea breeze is fantastic for the lungs. Not only are minerals absorbed through the skin, but we also take in “gulps” of water when we swim in it.
You would be surprised how much water you can ingest on long swims; you could fill glasses and bottles. Due to the absorption of salts through the skin or by swallowing water, you must always consume hypotonic drinks (like Gatorade).
Otherwise, you may have gastrointestinal problems and water and electrolyte imbalances.
Swimming in the sea is good for the skin, but it also causes oral and pharyngeal mucosa irritation. Those who have been on long voyages know what I’m talking about.
After hours at sea, your tongue and mouth become like a kitchen scouring pad, and you have a sore throat when you swallow, for hours or even days afterward, like when you have viral pharyngitis.
Compared to indoor and heated pools, where the water temperature is above 26 °C, swimming in open water exposes you to much lower temperatures.
For the inexperienced, diving in water significantly colder than they are used to and staying in it for a long period of time poses a risk, not only of hypothermia but also of paralysis and other serious conditions.
Therefore, if you start noticing breath shortness and chest tightness that goes beyond what you usually feel because of the anxiety that the sea can generate, you must leave immediately and call the emergency room if symptoms persist afterwards.
If you feel that you are finding it difficult to move in the water, you should get out immediately or call for help.
Again, vasoconstriction caused by immersion in cold water can also cause paralysis of the extremities. When you get very cold, you will start to notice how your fingers, face, and lips turn purplish while it is difficult to move them, and you have serious difficulties articulating words.
These symptoms reflect a certain degree of muscle paralysis due to a lack of blood supply due to capillary vasoconstriction. If this reaches extreme levels, the paralysis can progress to the arms and legs and this, in the middle of the sea, is a huge problem.
This occurs when there is a drop in core body temperature. How long you can swim in cold water without hypothermia is determined by water temperature, body size and shape, and the swimmer’s experience and adaptation to cold, among other factors.
If you are not adapted, you should start swimming for short periods of time, with a safety buoy to lean on in case of any difficulty and accompanied.
If you see that the frequency of your stroke decreases, you find it difficult to move your toes, hands, you cannot speak because you have paralyzed muscles of the face or begin to tremble; you should get out immediately.
Once out of the water, you must be careful as well. When you get out, the cold blood in your extremities starts to circulate through your body again, which can further lower your body temperature.
When you get out, you will be shivering. This is normal; these are involuntary muscle contractions to generate heat. You will feel difficulty moving the more distal parts of your body, such as your fingers or articulating words.
If the tremors and movement paralysis last longer than normal, or you start to feel sleepy, you should call the emergency services to be transferred to a hospital. To minimize the risk, you should immediately cover yourself with dry clothing starting with your upper body. It is even advisable to cover your head and put on gloves, and drink a warm beverage.
Neoprene does not prevent hypothermia. However, it does delay its onset. It will help you stay warm for longer, keep you afloat and allow you to swim faster.
Swimming in the rain is not a problem, as long as there is no thunderstorm. However, as soon as you hear thunder, you should get out immediately. If lightning strikes the water where you are swimming, electrocution is assured, and you will be found scorched (if they find you).
As for sea conditions, there is not much to say other than to use common sense. Everyone has to know in what conditions they can and cannot swim. If there is a storm with waves of more than three meters and strong currents, it is obvious to go to the pool instead.
Heavy rains cause sewage overflows, and this fecal water, dirty and full of biological pollutants, spills into rivers and the sea. In fact, you can see and smell it with the naked eye.
If you go to the beach after heavy rains, you will see the surface of the sea turbid, brownish; there may even be “floating elements,” and the smell is frankly unpleasant.
This is not only disgusting but swimming in these conditions is a risk to your health. You can catch gastroenteritis of different types and severity. It is advisable to shower with soap and water as soon as you get out of the water if you have swum in it.
Waterborne infectious diseases
Going swimming in the water carries a risk of parasitic, viral, or bacterial infections that commonly cause vomiting and diarrhea that are usually mild and limited.
This is more frequent in swamps and rivers. In the sea, it can happen if you swim in it after torrential rains, as we have explained. In any case, pay attention to the “no swimming” signs on any marsh you go to or the red flags on the beaches.
Sharks are beautiful and intelligent creatures, but most of us would not like to encounter one. They are rare on our shores, although it is not impossible to run into one. If you do, stay calm. In reality, very few shark species are dangerous to people. Humans kill many more than the other way around.
Jellyfish, however, can be more of a problem than sharks. There are millions of them on our beaches and, although they are not deadly, their stings can be downright painful and even cause major reactions in people with allergies.
These bugs are covered with a mucous material which, when in contact with the skin, causes a more or less severe burning rash, depending on the jellyfish and the person.
Experienced swimmers always carry a rigid plastic card (an expired ID will do) inside the safety buoy or hanging from it to scratch the surface of the sting as it happens. This procedure, although painful, eliminates the stinging substance and reduces the subsequent skin reaction.
When you get out, a cream with antihistamines or cortisone will soothe you. If you also stay in the water, the benefits of the salt will also improve the skin reaction. There are sun creams with anti jellyfish effects, but the truth is that there is no infallible remedy of any kind against the pain.
If they are out there and you touch them, no cream will save you.
Swimming in the sea: General recommendations
Swimming in open water is wonderful, but it has its risks. Therefore, it is necessary to be prudent, to take precautions, and to use common sense.
- Try to be accompanied, essential if you are inexperienced
- Swim close to the coast unless you have a boat guarding you
- Wearing neoprene when the water temperature is below 20 degrees is highly recommended unless you are already adapted to swimming in cold water
- Carrying a safety buoy is very important. It helps you to be seen by boats, or you can lean on it in case of any mishap or even if you have cramps. You can also take water and food inside it to stock up on supplies and whatever else is needed
And above all, if you feel unwell, leave immediately or ask for help without rushing. On land, you can hurry more, but at sea, any mishap, however slight, can lead to drowning, so better safe than sorry.
Enjoy your swim!