When temperatures plummet, most people prefer to stay cozy and warm – not swim in chunks of ice! However, scientific studies suggest that cold water swimming can bring a number of health benefits, provided you approach it correctly.
Whether you’re looking to reduce stress or improve your immune system, this long-held northern tradition can be an asset to your health regimen. Here’s how you can reap the benefits – and avoid the icy pitfalls – of cold water swimming.
Immune System And Circulation
Getting into a cold water routine can improve your immune system. As your body reacts to the frigid water, your white blood cell count elevates. Over time, this boost can lead to a stronger immune system. The trick is to keep these exposures brief, as longer periods in cold water can result in decreased immune functions.
Cold water can also boost your cardiovascular health. The sudden change in temperature sends a rush of blood through your veins as your body tries to warm up. This flushes your veins, arteries, and capillaries, helping you to better cope with harsh climates 1.
It Burns Calories
Cold water swimming activates stores of fat in your body called “brown adipose tissue” (BAT). While this might sound like a drawback, BAT is a good fat that burns calories in order to maintain your core temperature. Needless to say, your BAT will be working overtime while you’re chilling out!
Believe it or not, routine cold water exposure also boosts insulin sensitivity while decreasing insulin concentrations. It helps your BAT produce more adiponectin, which can protect your body from diabetes and insulin resistance, among other diseases 2.
Alongside the physical perks, cold water immersions offer a range of mental health benefits. Since the frigid rush is painful, our body activates endorphins to help us cope. This feel-good chemical, combined with the exercise of swimming, can help combat depression 3.
Multiple studies have also concluded that cold water clears the mind of anxieties and lowers stress. According to Dennis Thomas, President of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, “You can’t think of anything that’s troubling you when you’re in water that cold 4.”
Talk about a self-esteem boost! Cold water swimming has even been linked to an improved sex drive, resulting in greater estrogen and testosterone production. An increased libido has its own benefits, including better moods and more confidence 5.
Cheap And Social
Whether you’re using your own pool or frequenting the local beach, cold water swimming is an incredibly affordable way to get more endorphins into your life. Sure, there’s an abundance of winter swimming gear on the market, but most traditions prefer to keep it simple. Just make sure you have a warm towel and a dry set of clothes for when you get out!
You might even meet other cold water swimmers while you’re out there. If the Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s Day is proof of anything, it’s that strangers can develop a rare camaraderie when braving an icy swim together! This social dimension can add yet another benefit to your general well-being 6.
Don’t Dive In
Any benefits from cold water swimming can only be gained through repeated exposure. So, it’s essential that you build your body’s tolerance in a step-by-step fashion. The key is to swim in cold water a few times per week, gradually increasing the length of time you’re in the water.
A few minutes is all you need to gain the endorphin rush, but it’s important to know your limits. As Dr. Heather Massey, a researcher at the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth, advises, “Get out if you are not comfortable, and don’t set time goals for staying in the water 7.”
If you’re swimming outdoors, it’s preferable to start in the summer rather than the winter. It’s also recommended to wade in, rather than jump in. Taking the time to responsibly acclimatize can offset the risks of cold water swimming, which range from hypothermia and neurogenic cold shock response to death, if the body is unable to adjust to the temperature 8.
Read Before You Freeze
If you crave a new winter exercise, cold water swimming might be the best hobby you’ve never tried. Start with a chilly shower and proceed from there. You can find a number of great tips online with regards to acclimatizing your body, so be sure to research carefully before taking the plunge!