The Benefits of Cold Water Swimming

The health benefits of cold water swimming have been a subject of interest for a long time. From Victorians retreating to their bathing machines to the lido boom in the early twentieth century, there has been a belief in the positive effects of bracing outdoor dips. Recent scientific studies are starting to support this notion, providing evidence of lasting benefits from immersing oneself in cold water.

Although research is still in the early stages, we are beginning to understand how cold water immersion impacts the human body.

Increased Stress Tolerance

Cold water submersion is not for the faint of heart. The low temperature triggers a stress response in the body, similar to what we experience in scary or tense situations. The release of the stress hormone cortisol, increased breathing frequency, and elevated heart rate are all part of the body's fight-or-flight mechanism. It explains why the natural instinct upon entering cold water is to want to get out as quickly as possible.

However, as those who have braved icy dips will attest, the initial stress reaction diminishes as you adjust to the temperature. Evidence suggests that repeatedly exposing your body to cold water gradually reduces the severity of the initial stress response. It may not be that cold water swimmers become acclimatized to the water itself, but rather they become accustomed to their body's reaction, making the response less severe.

The true magic lies in the fact that the reduction in the stress response extends to other stressful situations beyond cold water exposure. Your reaction to various stressors, such as taking an exam or bungee jumping, can also be reduced.

Boost to Self-Esteem

Challenging yourself to stay in cold water can enhance your mental strength. Stepping out of your comfort zone builds confidence, courage, and a sense of accomplishment. By becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, you increase your resilience in other aspects of life.

Swimming as a Mindfulness Exercise

Immersing yourself in cold water sends your nervous system into overdrive. Nerve endings transmit responses to your brain, relaying just how cold different parts of your body are feeling. With the intense sensation of the water to focus on, your brain has limited bandwidth left to ruminate over to-do lists or worry about anything other than the cold. This heightened focus on the present moment bears resemblance to mindfulness exercises and provides a much-needed respite from the constant stream of everyday thoughts.




Decreased Inflammation

Elite athletes around the world utilize ice baths for post-performance recovery. The principle is straightforward: Cold temperatures prompt your body to direct blood away from your extremities to protect your core organs. This reduced blood flow to your limbs decreases inflammation and enables muscles to recover more quickly. A bracing dip in cold water can deliver similar benefits to those of an ice bath.

Increased Immunity

While scientific evidence is not conclusive on this matter, many swimmers report experiencing fewer coughs and colds compared to their non-swimming counterparts, and there is a plausible theory behind it. The stress reaction triggered by cold water immersion is suspected to stimulate an increase in white blood cell production, naturally boosting your immune system. When you consider the physical and mental benefits of swimming, it is certainly plausible that there is a positive impact on immunity.

Radiant Skin

Swimming in open water, particularly in seawater, may have beneficial effects on your skin. Sea water contains magnesium, calcium, and potassium, which are all beneficial for the skin. Additionally, seawater possesses mild antiseptic properties and may promote the healing of damaged skin.

Post Swim High

The famed "after swim high" is indeed a real phenomenon. The combination of exercise and exposure to cold water triggers the release of dopamine, the body's feel-good hormone. If you swim with a buddy or in a group, the opportunity to share and compare your experience with like-minded individuals intensifies the overall experience.

While the water may be chilly, there are numerous reasons why persevering with cold water swimming and pushing through your resistance can be immensely beneficial for your health and well-being.

If you're thinking of taking up the sport have a look at the Swim Secure Open Water Swimming Safety Guide for some tips on how to get started safely. 

 For more great advice, information and tips visit the Outdoor Swimming Society and Outdoor Swimmer Magazine