Wild swimming health benefits - Top 10 reasons the cold water is good for you

Cold water swimming benefits health
I've discovered first hand that there are literally loads of health benefits to cold water swimming - read on to learn about the 10 best health benefits 

Wild swimming in Cold water  - 10 health benefits:

1. Cold water wild swimming gives you an amazing, instant natural high

It's been shown that being in cold water activates the release of feel-good chemicals in our brain; Dopamine and Endorphins, often called the 'happy hormones'  and it's this that gives you the great buzz and euphoric feeling. A study in 2000 found that cold water can boost dopamine levels by 530% and another study in 2008 showed cold water immersion can increase endorphins. Its hard not to emerge from the cold water without a smile on your face - and it’s a good antidote to the strains of modern life. It even helps those with anxiety and depression. You need to try it to feel it - and it is quite addictive due to it being such a good feeling - and its free :-)

Cold water swimming is a great anti-dote to the stresses of modern life and is one of the best natural buzzes you can get

2. Cold water wild swimming helps you fight stress

Being in cold water is a physical stress on the body, and it’s believed that your body treats physical stress in a similar way to mental stress, however by training your body to adapt and not react to the cold water physical stress, it also conditions your body to not react as much to other stresses (whether physical or mental), thus it’s great for mental health, reducing stress and letting you be calmer and more relaxed in day to day life. Apparently the diminished stress response is about activating the parasympathetic nervous system and a key part of this system is the vagus nerve, which connects your brain to organs including your heart and lungs. Cold water immersion is a great way of stimulating the vagus nerve helping your body deal with stress better.

Cold water swimming has also been shown to help reduce depression & anxiety for those who suffer from that. Apparently it only takes about 4-6 immersions in cold water to halve the initial shock-response of your first dip (and it does get easier after your first dip - trust me)

See: https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/cold-water-swimming-why-an-icy-dip-is-good-for-your-mental-and-physical-health/

Cold water swimming can help you get fit and burn extra calories

3. Cold water wild swimming gets you fit, burns calories and could help with weight loss

If you manage to have a swim around in the water then the exercise obviously helps get you fit, but also being in cold water means your body has to work harder to keep you warm and thus burns even more calories compared to being in warmer water.

Although more research is needed to prove whether cold water therapy can help with weight loss, some studies have shown that immersion in cold water can speed up your metabolic rate. This is the rate at which your body uses energy and burns calories.

See study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549283/

4. Cold water wild swimming improves circulation

Cold water swimming certainly gets the blood pumping in your body and for your body to keep itself warm it forces blood to the surface of your body and in doing so flushes your veins, arteries and capillaries, and improves circulation over time.

Cold water wild swimming health benefits sea river lake ice
Read a personal take on Cold Water swimming here www.thesportsedit.com/benefits-of-cold-water-swimming

5. Cold water wild swimming boosts the immune system 

Some small studies on the effects on cold water on the immune system have shown that cold water may help to boost white blood cell count. One study showed that even cold showers reduced absence from work through sickness by 29%. The same study also found that regular physical activity reduced sickness absence by 35%. Combine the two and that's 54% reduction in sickness!

See study: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0161749

Many people are reaping the health benefits of cold water wild swimming, whether in lakes, rivers or the sea

6. Cold water can help with pain relief & recovery

There is growing evidence that that a cold water plunge may offer an alternative to strong painkillers and physiotherapy to relive severe pain. One story detailed in the journal BMJ Case Reports that revealed that a 28-year-old man who suffered from post-operative pain found it disappeared totally after doing an open water swim.

More info: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-43003892

See study: https://casereports.bmj.com/content/2018/bcr-2017-222236

Another article in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, reports that cold water can have local anesthetic-like effects for pain relief. Exposure to cold water can make the blood vessels constrict, which can reduce swelling and edema that causes pain. Cold water can also slow down the speed at which nerve signals conduct impulses, which reduces the rate at which nerves transmit pain signals to the brain, thus lowering a person’s perception of pain.

See study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052/

You may have heard of athletes and sports teams having ice baths after physical activity?  This is because it's been shown that athletes that soak in cold water water for short periods after exercise have less muscle soreness afterwards. A small study in 2011 found that cyclists who completed intense training sessions had decreased muscle soreness after being immersed in cold water for 10 minutes.

See study: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21710292/

Cold water wild swimming health benefits sea river lake ice
There's nothing like a dip in the chilly sea to feel invigorated and reap the health benefits of cold water swimming 

7. Cold water wild swimming increases your libido

A dip in some cold water boosts oestrogen and testosterone production, adding an edge to fertility and libido. The benefits of increased libido (other than the obvious :-) include more confidence, higher self-esteem, and enhanced mood.

8. Cold water wild swimming could help prevent dementia

This benefit is really exciting in that cold water swimming may even protect the brain from degenerative diseases like dementia. A "cold-shock" protein found in the blood of regular winter swimmers has been shown to slow the onset of dementia and even repair some of the damage it causes in mice. Studies are ongoing but it sounds positive.

See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-54531075

infinity pool lake district wild swimming spots natural best
There are some stunning wild swimming spots out in nature - you just need to know where to find them!

9. Cold water wild swimming connects you to nature and improves well-being

We spend much of our lives indoors and in artificial surroundings, but when you go cold water swimming, whether in the sea, lakes or rivers - you are literally connected to nature and the elements, completely in the moment and switched off from everything else - its a great tonic for the mind to just switch off and be in the water. More and more studies are also proving how being in natural environments have a significant positive impact on our mood, and a 2019 study suggests that spending 120 minutes in a week in nature is associated with good health and well-being. 

Study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3

10. Wild swimming helps you make new friends 

Because of the growing popularity of cold water swimming - many local groups in the community are popping up to do more organised dips together. Not only is this a safer way to try it out - it’s a great way of socialising and meeting like minded people. With the added benefit that you might not feel as nuts if others are there too :-) To find local groups - try websites such as www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com - or have a search around on facebook!

Cold water swimming is a great way to meet like minded people and the camaraderie you develop by all going into the water together all contributes to the positive benefits of cold water swimming.

Remember to stay safe in the water:

As you can see there are loads of benefits to cold water swimming, but it's not without it's dangers.

  • Before taking a dip in cold water, make sure you are fit and healthy. Cold has a powerful effect on the human body and The shock of entering cold water causes a dramatic rise in heart rate and blood pressure, which can cause heart attacks and strokes in those with underlying illnesses. If in any doubt, check with your GP
  • It’s a good idea to slowly build up your adaptation to cold water and a good start is just taking a daily cold shower to get used to that sensation. Start your cold shower at 15 seconds and build up over a few weeks to a minute (Don't worry you can flip the shower to hot once you've had a blast of coldness :-)
  • Cold water promotes a gasp reflex and rapid breathing, which can lead to drowning if water is inhaled. So until you are fully adapted, enter any body of water gently in shallow water to get used to it gradually and don't just jump straight into deep water!
  • For your first dip in cold water - a minute may well be long enough and look to build up your adaptation over time. As a rough guide don't stay in any longer than a minute per degree of water temperature. And listen to your body - we all respond differently and get out if you start to feel uncomfortable and too cold. Bare in mind though that after 4/5 dips your reaction to the cold water should halve - so stick with it :-)
  • Wherever you decide to take the plunge - be mindful of the weather and possible dangers in the water, whether that's strong waves in the sea, or strong currents & rapids in rivers and lakes. 
  • Once you come out the water - Find shelter, remove wet clothing and replace it with as many layers of warm, dry clothing as you can, including a woolly hat and gloves. A surfer robe is a great thing to towel yourself down, whilst keeping hands free,
  • Keep moving around, do light exercise if you can, and don't worry about shivering - it will help get you warm. But don't take a hot bath or shower as soon as you get out of cold water as Changes in your blood pressure as you are re-warming, can cause you to faint and risk traumatic injury.

Cold water swimming health benefits
Cold water swimming has many health benefits - have you experienced it? 

My useful tips for cold water wild swimming:

  • Check the weather forecast to see what temperatures you will be dealing with and if you decide to try it in the sea - also check tide times and there are free apps that surfers use (like Magic Seaweed) that forecasts up to 7 days in advance how 'wavey' a particular day & time will be, which all depends upon the swells out at sea! (For first timers choose a day where the waves are flat!)
  • As I take a dip in the sea - I like to have a bottle of water in my bag to rinse the sand off before putting my shoes back on
  • If your swimming in lakes or rivers - wear some beach shoes to help with walking over any pebbles
  • Bring plenty of warm clothing to change back into and get the body temperature back up.
  • A flask of coffee or tea is nice treat for when you get back out 
  • Specialised breathing techniques can help with dealing with the cold-shock and many ice-swimmers are passionate advocates of the breathing technique developed by Wim Hoff, also known as 'The Iceman' called the Wim Hoff Method. Check out https://www.wimhofmethod.com/cold-therapy or Wim's YouTube page to learn more.
  • We all respond to the cold differently - and for some your hands and feet may suffer the cold the most whilst your body feels ok. You might want to invest in some neoprene gloves/shoes to keep your extremities warmer. 
  • One thing that is really useful if you get into cold swimming and a brilliant investment is a good value Changing Robe or the more luxurious and pricier Dry Robe - think dressing gown but made for drying yourself when you come out of the water and which also keeps your hands free for changing under the robe. 


And that is that - I hope it inspires you to try out cold-water swimming for yourself. I really do recommend giving it a go and feeling the benefits first hand - but please do stay safe! Let me know how you get on :)

Happy Wild Swimming!

Post by Stuart Hodgson 
'The Hiking Photographer'

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