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Digital Subscriptions > Outdoor Swimmer > February 19 > A tonic for longevity

A tonic for longevity

Katie Maggs’s portraits of older swimmers capture adventure, imagination and freedom

In the darkness of the dawn my morning walk to the sea takes me past a residential care home. As I stand sheltering from the wind and the rain, I can’t help but wonder… In the future will I be helped from my bed, handed a cup of tea and sat in a chair in front of the television? Or will I, like so many of my older swimming friends, be out here, in the wild, at one with the ocean and feeling ever so wonderfully free?

I am fortunate to swim with an incredible group of intrepid older swimmers who meet each day at dawn at Battery Rocks in the small coastal town of Penzance in Cornwall. As I have photographed the daily rituals of these inspirational wild swimmers it has led me to think about not only the physical health benefits of regular immersion in cold water but also the impact it has on our ability to live longer, happier and more purposeful lives.

In my own teaching practice in Health and Social Care, I often consider longevity and the developmental stages of life. We come into the world, we have experiences and eventually we die. Discounting accident, injury and genetic disease, what is it that gives some more time than others? In 2018 the World Health Organisation stated that the most common risk factors for developing life-limiting diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, arthritis and osteoporosis were physical inactivity, obesity, social isolation and negative lifestyle choices such as smoking and excessive drinking. Being unhappy, in wider research of my own, also played a significant role. I realised then that my photography of the older swimmers had captured many of the secrets to a longer life. I saw the value of having a strong sense of purpose, the need for adventure, the regular use of imagination, daily physical exercise, positive friendships with young and old, a close connection with nature and a lust for new experiences. I have been fortunate to have spent so much time with these brave and inspirational swimmers. The sea, they say, holds a secret. If you take the plunge at any stage in your life you may well just discover something about yourself that you never really knew to be possible before.

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About Outdoor Swimmer

In this issue we explore cold water swimming and ageing in ‘The Tonic of Longevity’; Lindsey Cole, the Urban Mermaid, tells the story behind her swim of the length of the Thames collecting litter; we have psychological tips to help you deal with cold water; Elaine Howley celebrates pioneering Victorian swimming heroine Agnes Beckwith; and coach James Ewart explains how to swim faster by swimming slowly: it’s all in the maths! Plus, event reviews from Norfolk to Bermuda, warming winter recipes, swimming from Corsica to Sardinia and comprehensive UK and international event listings to help you plan your summer swims.