At the end of last year I received an email telling me about Adam Walker, a toaster salesman turned ocean swimmer! As you can imagine I was intrigued!
Adam is the UKs leading open water marathon swimmer and the first British man to complete the grueling Ocean’s 7 Challenge. Only six people in the world have completed the challenge and Adam is one of only two people to complete the challenge on the first attempt.
Adam made headlines worldwide in 2014 when a pod of dolphins swam with him for four hours protecting him from a great white shark stalking him in the Cook Straight, New Zealand. This year Adam will star in a film documentary about this experience directed by John Jackson (The Descendants) and Andy Byatt (Blue Planet).
After reading his amazing story, I was lucky enough to be able to put some questions to Adam to find out more about him, but more importantly how exercise can help with mental health.
Do you find physical or psychological barriers hardest to overcome?
This sport is around 80% mental and 20% physical. When I was stung by a Portuguese man o war in the pitch black in the middle of the Pacific Ocean I didn’t know whether to move forward or back in case I got stung again. The mental element is more challenging although physically you have to be at a very good level to swim all day long without stopping which again has to be trained up. I have leant to switch of both elements and keep it simple. If its simple in your mind its simple in reality this comes with experience and confidence.
What would you say to someone starting a completely new fitness regime who had huge self doubt?
Focus on what you want to achieve write down your short, mid and long terms goals and even laminate them and pin it up at home so you can see it every day. Know that each step you make you are on a great road to fitness health and wellbeing. Just step over that line and make the leap, what do you have to lose? Fitness comes with many rewards, make sure you have a plan of the sessions each week, if necessary get a personal trainer. Work hard and you will see and feel the benefits. I made that leap and it not only made me fitter but changed my life forever in so many ways. I now no longer do the job I don’t want to do, I am happier than I have ever been! Fitness can be life changing!
Where has been your favourite place to swim so far?
I loved Gibraltar as the water was clear and I heard pilot whales and saw dolphins. But nothing tops my experience when a pod of dolphins escorted me across the Cook Strait in NZ. It was incredible and I felt honored to be out there with them. The experience will never leave me and it has made me stronger than ever to support whales and dolphins.
Would you say swimming is a good exercise for mental health? If so, why?
Definitely, it helps with depression producing endorphins but has a number of physical and mental benefits:
- It has been proven by scientists that by being immersed in cold water three times a week increases your white blood cell counts which helps fight infection and boost your immune system by activating antibodies and increasing the metabolic rate.
- In Sweden it’s common practice to let babies take naps outdoors in the cold, which has proven to not only help them be more resistant to diseases but they also sleep deeper and more soundly. Insomniacs are told to have cold showers to aid their sleep.
- In Siberia as a ritual they dump a bucket of cold water over the head of children aged 2-6 years old. It has shown that 95 per cent of children who participate are healthy through the flu season as opposed to 75 per cent of those children who do not take part.
- Better circulation – cold water exposure over time is shown to improve circulation, since cold water exposure causes your blood flow to be re-directed to your vital organs. It forces your body to circulate your blood more efficiently and effectively.
- Temperature regulation – cold water helps limit heat loss. As it decreases core body temperature it actually regulates overall body temperature.
- Relief from symptoms of depression – cold water has proven to help relieve the symptoms of depression. Due to the high density of cold water receptors in the skin, a cold dip is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from nerve endings to the brain, which can result in an anti-depression effect.
- Healthy skin and hair – cold water helps close the pores and doesn’t dry out your skin like the warm and chemically treated pool water. It is also great for your hair as cold temperatures close the hair cuticles, making it stronger.
- No chemicals – as well as irritating the skin, chlorine is absorbed by the body primarily through inhalation. Many pool swimmers suffer a cough or sore throat during and following a training session. Open water swimmers can breathe deep the fresh air of their surroundings.
- Energy increase – cold water boosts energy levels, nerve endings stand up and the heart starts racing. It is one of the best possible ways to give yourself a natural high.
- Helps you maximise your breathing capabilities – cold water forces you to breath deeper, by forcing you to pause momentarily as a reflex to the immersion. This opens up the lungs and helps bring in more oxygen.
- Minimise pain – reduces chronic pain, body aches and inflammation, regulates nervous system, improves kidney function and overall improves circulation.
- None resistance activity – ideal sport for individuals who have had injuries or impairments as it’s a non weight bearing activity and resistance free, in addition you are working the majority of muscles so you still get a workout.
How do you feel about sharks now?
The same I have no issue with them, when I do these swims I am in their world. I have no complaints if anything was to happen, however I don’t believe we are the right food for them and it is more about mistake identity thinking we are a seal or other food source. I love everything in the ocean and we need to protect it and what’s in it.
What’s harder, selling a toaster or swimming an ocean? (Genuine question!)
What is probably a better question is what’s more interesting and exciting. I don’t need to answer that one. Of course a toaster. Ha ha!
Man vs Ocean, is Adam’s story in his own words of how he went from toaster salesman living in Nottingham to the world’s toughest ocean marathon swimmer. It’s out now, so go and get a copy!