The Pull of the Pool

Having a pool on your doorstep – better still an outdoor one nestled in nature or with vast panoramic views – brings benefits for mind, body and soul

We all know the bliss of submerging ourselves into a crystalline outdoor pool, water lapping around us, on a sunny summer’s day. We also know the sweet satisfaction when, swim complete, we climb out of the water, our muscles grateful for our efforts. It’s no surprise, then, that swimming (indoors and outdoors) is one of the most popular activities in the country; nearly five million of us pull on our swimming togs at least twice a month.

Swimming has a long history in the UK. The oldest outdoor swimming venue, Cleveland Pools in Somerset, first welcomed bathers in 1815, and as the leisure pursuit blossomed, the demand for outdoor pools grew. Many boasted eye-catching art deco design, luxurious sundecks, poolside restaurants and daredevil diving boards. 

In the past few years many of these public open-air pools have been restored to their former glory as the resurgence in outdoor swimming has grown. Tooting Bec Lido in Wandsworth, London, which dates back to 1906, reopened to swimmers this spring after an extensive refurbishment. Guildford Lido still retains its 1930s charm and character, while at the Edwardian Thames Lido in Reading, Berkshire, you can sip a cool drink at the poolside bar, dine on Mediterranean-inspired dishes in the restaurant or treat yourself to a massage after your dip.

Our development, Trent Park in Enfield, north London, is part of that history, too. The mansion house featured Europe’s first outdoor heated pool, and was visited by society guests including Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw and John Singer Sargent during the roaring twenties. We’ve tastefully restored the elegant open-air swimming pool (pictured above), and it is incredibly popular with residents during the summer months, many of whom use it daily. 

The Unique Benefits of Swimming

“There’s not a population that doesn’t benefit from swimming,” says Alexander Hutchison, scientist, fitness coach and author of The Swim Prescription. “Just wading into water has physiological benefits that you won’t get on land. It takes down your sympathetic nervous system drive and raises back up your parasympathetic drive, which calms the body dramatically. It brings down blood pressure, heart rate and it quiets the brain, because it changes some of the neurochemistry.”  

The advantages are lifelong: studies show it improves fitness for women during pregnancy, helps children to develop physical, cognitive and social skills, it can be used both preventively and as a treatment for osteoporosis, while regular swimming helps older people stay mentally and physically fit, according to a study by Swim England. The unique properties of water – its buoyancy and the fact it provides resistance without stress on your joints – mean whatever your age or fitness level, you can join in.

Health-wise, “the biggest benefit is musculoskeletal”, says Hutchison. “There are cardiovascular benefits, in terms of reducing blood pressure, and it also improves pulmonary function; you get an increase in respiratory volume with swimming, which is maintained for years.”  

Swimming has been found to ease pain, and it’s beneficial for bone mineral density, too. “Bone mineral density is driven by how gravity pulls, stretches and compresses bones as you exercise, so being unweighted in water you don’t get as much benefit as in land-based activities – but you also get less damage to the joints,” says Hutchison.

When it comes to motivation, swimming has another trick up its sleeve. According to Hutchison, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), “which happens when you do a new activity and within 48- to 72-hours you feel major muscle soreness” can prevent people keeping up with an exercise programme, but it’s negated when you swim as it is “basically a no impact activity”. 

Why Blue Spaces Help Us Relax

Trent Park open-air pool

Trent Park open-air pool is set in beautiful gardens.

Being in ‘blue spaces’ give us a sense of belonging, and influence our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Marine biologist Wallace J Nichols, who has written extensively about the benefits of being around water, describes how the patterns that dance on its surface have a restful effect on our eyes, which “are drawn to the combination of novelty and repetition”. 

Place that body of water within a green space, as is the case in Trent Park, where the heated outdoor pool is nestled in beautifully landscaped gardens, and those positive effects will be amplified. Recent research found that the greater diversity of natural features in a green space, like trees, birds, plants and waterways, the greater the improvements in mental wellbeing, and these benefits last for up to eight hours. 

At White City Living, in west London, we are creating an elegant and luxurious outdoor Mediterranean-inspired rooftop pool and beach club, exclusively for residents. When complete in summer 2025, this beach and pool will allow swimmers to gaze for miles around. According to neuroscientist Andrew Huberman this kind of “panoramic vision” makes us feel calm, dials down stress and improves wellbeing.
CGI of Westmont Club rooftop pool

A CGI of The Westmont Club rooftop pool at White City Living. 

A Communal Space

You may assume that swimming is a solo activity but having access to a pool is social, too. “There’s something to be said for having a communal space to go to and calmly wade into the water with your neighbours,” says Hutchison. That’s a benefit the residents at Trent Park have found, and the pool is often referred to as the “heart of the Trent Park community”.

For Hutchison, if you’re lucky enough to have a pool on your doorstep, you should use it “as often as you can”, but “even one day a week will make a difference”. That’s not to say that it should simply be your training ground, it’s also a place to socialise and disconnect. “It’s a time to reset, a zen moment,” he says. 

Find out more about Trent Park and White City Living. Many of our other developments have indoor pools too.