By Katie Maggs, @tonicofthesea on Instagram and Twitter.

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.

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, daily physical exercise, positive friendships with young and old, a close connection with nature and a lust for new experiences.

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.

Monique Thomas - age 83

"It’s exhilarating going in the sea every day, you feel so proud of yourself after doing it, after doing something so stupid and silly! People always say to me how can you go in at your age when it is so cold at this time of year, but it is just such a lovely social event meeting the entire group down there in the mornings. I don’t tend to get colds and I genuinely always feel full of energy. I really wouldn’t go down and swim by myself and so being part of the swimming group and getting the physical exercise gives me such a kick to start the day. Once I get down to the rocks in the cold and dark in the mornings I often think I was stupid to come down here, but as soon as I’m in I think I’m so glad I’ve done it! I’ve been swimming here since 2003 and December, January and February are always absolutely fine for swimming!”

Peter Uren - age 71

Peter Uren

“I have been swimming off Battery Rocks for over 40 years now. It has always been a place that is special to me and where people can swim safely. We always come across grey seals, dolphins and in the summer huge barrel jellyfish. I swim all through the winter and I love the stimulation of the cold water and how you feel after going in, especially in the winter months. It can be harder when it is so very cold but everyone else being there helps to spur you on to get in. I feel once I have swum in the morning I have really achieved something extraordinary for the day. It’s like a Cornish heaven at Battery Rocks at sunrise. I like to swim before I do anything else, it sets me up with a positive mindset for the day. Cold water also definitely supports my immune system, I rarely suffer with colds or aches and pains and I am always extremely active. I don’t get ill and I find you build resistance to ill health somehow. While I am swimming I find I can dissociate myself with everything on land, I can relax completely, my world for that time being just me and the water, it is a therapy and I become part of nature almost. When I swim I feel I am really living my life.”

Jeremy Charles Gulliver King - Age 85

Jeremy Charles Gulliver King

“I have been swimming at the rocks for the past 17 years. The cold water and the exercise keep me healthier and with better circulation. I also love the daily difference of swimming from the rocks at dawn, you never know what you will find there and there are always changes in the heights of the sea. Sometimes I can dive in and others I must wade in. There is always wildlife about too, each year the seagulls that are born on my roof follow me to the sea and swoop over my head when I swim, they have come to know who I am. I often swim bedside seals and I can hear them breathing heavily next to me and they tug at my feet. I don’t really feel that my swimming is spiritual but it’s a feeling of complete freedom and possibility. I also love the social side of swimming. After my wife died I had no one to help me to do up my wetsuit and so I ventured to the promenade to ask someone for help. That’s how I came across all the swimmers, they were so friendly and there is such a variety that swim with us.”

David Roberts - Age 67

David Roberts

“I work through the night and I just love walking around to the rocks at dawn to plunge into the water. It’s a sociable event for me where I can join the others and then get home in enough time to start the day with my wife. The early morning swim is my time – time just for me. I don’t swim far as I broke my shoulder in the past, but I just love the rush of the cold sea and witnessing the sunrise. It is such a brilliant experience. Swimming from the rocks you are always in good company, diverse company with people from all walks of life – you can always learn something new from someone there. There is no pretence at sunrise on a cold winter’s morning, there are no mirrors, no looking your best, there is nothing to hide. It is purely about the experience. You can get in and just do as little or as much as you can, and the people are all so inspiring there, all different ages and abilities, you get down there in the dark and you just see shadows and you think to yourself excitedly, I wonder who is here today? It’s a real hidden gem swimming at Battery Rocks – a life changing place really.”

Antonia Bachelor Age 82

Antonia Bachelor

“I just love being in the sea, out there in the elements – I suppose it is my own search for the wild and my connection with my childhood. I just love being immersed in the natural world. I love seeing the seals and the cormorants, the way they swoop over our heads whilst we are swimming when the sun is just rising, and the water is still, it is just so wonderful to be out there completely supported in the wild open sea. I feel safe as all the other swimmers look out for me, they are my friends and they deliberately hover and help me in and out of the water."

After reading these powerful stories you'll no doubt be wanting to swim in cold water in a beautiful location too. Our Loch Lomond Swim is just what you're after!

Loch Lomond Swim

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