A short film that captures the journey of students and cold-water swimmers collaborating on a research project – exposure to cold water was tested for the first time in saliva samples.
While the impact of the global pandemic is still being felt three years later – one area of positive change has emerged with the rediscovery of outdoor swimming and the potential health benefits it brings.
With public pools closed and people unable to travel, there were those who looked closer to home looking for swimming opportunities. In June 2020 Wild Sea Women started in Sunderland with a few women keen to connect and plunge into the sea together for their health and well-being. Since then the group has taken off, capturing the imagination of swimmers and now has 12,000 members across the North East and Scotland.
One such member is Bridie Hodgson, a final year student in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sunderland, who wanted to use her scientific knowledge to discover more about any biological changes in the bodies of these cold-water swimmers, which could shed light on the mental and physical health benefits they bring. They test it.
Working alongside Dr Katrin Gaydek, Senior Lecturer in Applied Biological Sciences and Salivary Biomarker Scientist, along with other final year project students, they spent time with the wild sea women on two mornings on Sibern Beach, taking saliva tests before they entered water and afterwards. Then the tests were carried out in the university’s laboratories.
The project also attracted the interest of Northeast filmmaker Dan Prince, who documented the stages and results, capturing the first time anyone experienced cold water exposure in saliva samples, and charting the journey between scientists and swimmers.
The enthusiasm from everyone involved in this project was the real success story behind the project. These women were willing to stand there and spit in poop at 6am on the beach every morning, and be photographed in the process. We were incredibly lucky to have a group that was involved in the process.”
She added: “We wanted to discover, through saliva tests, whether there were any biological changes in the body reacting to the cold water environment. While the saliva results did not show any significant changes in the women’s vital signs, this was more about feasibility than anything else. Can we Actually doing this kind of research on a larger scale, and we’ve just opened the doors. It’s clear that there are changes occurring in the physical and mental health of these women, and that needs further investigation.”
Bridie will now be working to take the project forward as part of her master’s degree, with a larger group of Wild Sea Women, from across the region and Scotland.
The new study will look at women Going through menopause, validating biomarkers that play an important role in shedding light on the relationships between environmental exposures, human biology, and disease. Scientists can use biomarkers to better understand basic biological processes.
There will also be work with the University of Sunderland’s Department of Psychology to measure psychological parameters in collaboration with swimmers.
Brady said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to do some very impressive work, and the University of Sunderland has allowed me to put into practice the skills I’ve learned over the past three years. I have confidence since I’ve been involved in every aspect of the project, from recruitment to interviewing participants and working with samples. Our next step is Getting a master’s degree in September with a similar project. The women of Wild Sea made this possible, and Catherine was an inspiring speaker throughout my entire journey, providing endless guidance and support.”
Hayley Dorian, who founded Wild Sea Women in 2020, added: “It has been a privilege and a wonderful opportunity to work alongside the scientific team at the University of Sunderland, helping with their incredibly interesting research. Although it would have been great for all of us to see some concrete evidence of the benefits of going to sea from this particular project, We know from personal experience that the sea improves our health in ways we may never understand.”
Explaining the process behind making the film, Dan Prince said: “Although the results were not what the students were looking for, I felt their journey was just as important as the search for the story.
“I really enjoyed working with them on this. Going from the sea to the lab showed two very different worlds, but it all started from just one topic — marine swimming. That was really interesting for me to capture.”