For a lot of people on the Outer Cape, summer officially starts with that first swim in a pond. But I’ve noticed people have a wide range of opinions on when to dive in.
“Some people think they have to wait for their vacations in August to go swimming,” says Carolina Marseglia, one of my swimming heroes. “But you don’t have to. And you can go every day,” she adds.
If you think the water is still too cold, Carolina will explain that it’s warmer than you think. My sources — real swimming fanatics who carry thermometers — have been reporting water temperatures in the 60s. And last Sunday, some of the ponds hit 70 degrees F.
Everyone has a different threshold for taking their first dip. Carolina says she goes by feel. She starts by walking barefoot on the beach, and, at some point, she just knows the time is right. Rich Roberts uses peer pressure to decide when the time is right. He goes when his swimming buddy calls him. I’m one of the ones who waits for the first day that the air temperature feels hot.
Whenever you’re ready, take the plunge. Swimming offers lots of benefits that can’t be found on terra firma. Here are my five reasons for deciding now’s the time.
First, it gives your joints a rest. When your body is gliding through water, there’s no weight and no impact on your joints. This makes aquatic exercise a great choice for people with injuries, arthritis, or neurological issues. If you’re one of these people, you’ll find water allows you a freedom of movement that’s not possible on dry land. But swimming is also an excellent cross-training activity for athletic types who favor high-impact workouts like running.
Second, it gives your whole body a workout. While walking, running, and biking are all about the legs, swimming incorporates the entire body: arms, legs, and core. It also addresses many different facets of fitness: it’s great aerobic exercise, it builds strength as you work against the resistance of the water, which is over 700 times denser than air, and it increases flexibility as you move your limbs through a large range of motion with each stroke.
Third, it’s your chance to get away from it all. The water is one of the few places where you can get free from your TV, cell phone, and computer (I hope your Apple watch doesn’t ring while you’re submerged). When you’re submerged, you don’t hear other people, car alarms, or loud music. Visual input is also reduced while you’re swimming. You’ll see mostly the underwater environment and just occasional glimpses of the surface, shore, and sky when you come up to breathe. Swimming takes you away from the constant sensory stimulation that is part of modern life.
Swim to de-stress. When you coordinate the timing of your stroke with taking your face out of the water to inhale, you naturally focus on your breath. This tends to quiet the internal dialogue that goes on in your head, creating a calm meditative state. In fact, research studies show that swimming can reduce anxiety.
Smile: science tells us that simply being in or near the water makes people feel better. The endorphins your body releases while swimming can elevate your mood and increase positive feelings. Even if you’re just floating in the water, you’ll get a happiness boost.
There’s one more reason to decide it’s warm enough already. Here on the Outer Cape, we are blessed with beautiful places to swim: ponds, bays, and the ocean. Wellfleet swimmer Mary Fox describes what’s best about swimming here. It’s like “being literally immersed in nature,” she says. “Looking up at the blue sky, it’s a spiritual experience.”
Carolina, who lives in North Truro, talks about “floating and looking at the birds and the trees and forgetting about everything else.”
I find that when I’m in the water, I become more aware of subtle changes in the wind, water temperature, and angle of the sun. Swimming in the bay, I experience the tide and current in a tangible way. As I skim through the rising and falling waves, I feel connected to something much larger.
Maybe now you’ll stop waiting and decide it’s warm enough, pull your swimsuit out of the closet, and jump in.