It is the outdoor sport of the moment.

Log on to any social media site and there’s a good chance you’ll spot an image of someone dipping their toes in a local loch, river or sea for a spot of wild swimming.

The activity was growing in popularity before Covid-19 struck and has only proven more attractive as pools and other recreational sites were forced to close down during lockdown.

And now, new research has revealed that the benefits of wild, or open water, swimming extend to much more than a great photo opportunity for Instagram.

A series of surveys by social enterprise Swim for Good found that four out of five wild swimmers said it benefits their mental health.

The research, which collected responses from more than 800 swimmers, also found that 69% of those asked said the activity had boosted their confidence, while 65% said their social interactions had improved and 69% claimed their physical health had benefitted.

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Colin Campbell, Swim for Good’s founder and head coach, said: “For many of us, open water swimming is a salve, a means of recuperation, therapy, pain relief, a source of joy, stillness and pleasure.

“The surveys found that people come to the water for many different reasons: for fitness, for therapy, to be in nature, to train for an event, to experience cold water immersion, or simply for the joy of swimming.

“And although we come to the water for our own individual reasons, most of us share and experience the same rewards when it comes to our mental and physical health, wellbeing, confidence and friendships.

“I think during lockdown we’ve come to value these even more.”

The findings have been collated in a report - The Benefits of Open Water Swimming- which includes the survey of open water swimmers from across the UK, as well as contributions from the US, Denmark and New Zealand.

It revealed that when it comes to general wellbeing, 85% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that wild swimming benefitted their overall wellbeing.

HeraldScotland: Wild swimming is said to have many health benefitsWild swimming is said to have many health benefits

The report also contains testimonies from dozens of swimmers describing the benefit of the sport.

They talk about the positive impact it has had on their mental health, especially in dealing with the stresses of lockdown life.

Others also said it helped them with issues such as depression, bereavement and PTSD. And for some women, it helped to alleviate symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause.

The data also showed that 49% of those asked had only taken up open water swimming during lockdown.

Mr Campbell, who has provided coaching to more than 250 people since becoming a coach in 2019, said: “Participation in open water swimming was already on an upwards trajectory, but over lockdown it has surged.

“For many people, perhaps nervous or new to open water swimming, coaching has enabled them to access the amazing resource we have in our rivers, lochs, lakes and coastal waters.

“But as popular as it has become, it is vital everyone understands the various risks associated with open water swimming. Having an experienced coach to offer that support has been massively important and beneficial to many people across the country.”

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He added that he hoped drawing attention to the value of open water swimming would highlight the need to care for and appreciate “our marine environment as a source of healing and happiness”.

“It’s bizarre we even need to say this, but we all need to collectively work together to look after our open water areas,” he said.