Freshwater Wild Swimming, Health and Well-Being: Understanding the Importance of Place and Risk



McDougall CW, Foley R, Hanley N, Quilliam RS & Oliver DM (2022) Freshwater Wild Swimming, Health and Well-Being: Understanding the Importance of Place and Risk. Sustainability, 14 (10), Art. No.: 6364.

Spending time in or around bodies of water or ‘blue spaces’ can benefit human health and well-being. A growing body of evidence suggests immersion in blue space, e.g., participating in ‘wild’ swimming, can be particularly beneficial for both physical and mental health. To date, wild swimming and health research has primarily focused on the experience of individuals who swim in the sea. Empirical studies of the health-promoting potential of swimming in freshwater environments, such as lochs and lakes, are lacking, despite the popularity of this practice in many countries and the vastly different physical and hydrological properties of freshwater and coastal environments. The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between loch (lake) swimming and health and well-being for adults living in Scotland and determine the importance of perceptions of place and risk in this relationship. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with twelve wild swimmers who regularly swim in lochs in Scotland. Interview data were analysed thematically using Nvivo. The findings suggest loch swimming has a variety of health and well-being benefits that can be categorised over three domains of health: physical, mental and social. Of these domains, mental health benefits e.g., mindfulness promotion, resilience building and increasing one’s ability to listen to their body, were particularly prominent. Our findings also highlight important physical and hydrological characteristics of loch environments, e.g., calm water conditions (relative to the sea), which contribute to positive wild swimming experiences. Finally, the perceived risks of loch swimming and mitigation strategies for these risks are established. Collectively, our findings further support the notion that wild swimming is a unique health-promoting practice. Our findings also highlight differences (in terms of experience and perceived risk) between swimming in freshwater and coastal environments, which can inform public health and water management policy.

nature; blue space; lake; loch; mental health

Sustainability: Volume 14, Issue 10

FundersScottish Government
Publication date31/05/2022
Publication date online23/05/2022
Date accepted by journal14/05/2022

People (3)


Mr Craig McDougall
Mr Craig McDougall

PhD Researcher, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Professor David Oliver
Professor David Oliver

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Professor Richard Quilliam
Professor Richard Quilliam

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences