Plunging into cold water is said to be a real tonic. Not only does it get people outdoors and into the fresh air, but regular cold-water dipping is believed to have an overwhelmingly positive impact on our health.
Despite being an initial shock to the system when you first enter the cold water, the benefits come flooding in. It’s said to be a boost to the immune system and metabolism, an ab workout, but most of all, research suggests it can have big effects on mental health.
Although flourishing in popularity over the past years, cold water therapy is nothing new, with its origins tracing back to Ancient Greece. The earliest recorded champion of an ice-cold dunk was Hippocrates himself, who raved about his experiences with ‘magic waters’ for reducing pain.
More recently, cold water plunging has been brought into the limelight by Dutchman Wim Hof, also known as Iceman. Wim is a motivational speaker and extreme athlete, famed for his ability to withstand cold temperatures. Cold is an important component of the Wim Hof Method, where participants of his methods have reported health benefits from higher energy levels to relief of symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases.
Jumping out of a plane, spinning the wheel in a game of roulette, having sex…what do all these things have in common? The release of dopamine and adrenaline. Cold-water dipping is no different. The strangely enjoyable pain of plunging into cold water is rewarded with a tsunami of endorphins, which are released to help the body respond to the shock and stress caused by the hit of the cold.
It has been reported that cold-water immersion can boost dopamine levels by 530%. Combine this intense dopamine hit with all the benefits of ecotherapy, and it is easy to see why so many people are becoming cold water swimming addicts, chasing this natural high.
While this all-round mood booster may be an instant benefit, there are also long-term mental health benefits of cold-water swimming. It has been found to effectively treat some cases of depression, with the British Medical Journal finding that regular cold water swims are a viable alternative to antidepressants. It is also believed to reduce levels of anxiety. Overcoming the resistance to entering cold water helps to build up mental resilience, which, over time, encourages confidence and self-esteem and reduces stress.
One of the key benefits of cold-water swimming is improved cardiovascular health, through the workout the heart and lungs receive. The cold water also enhances circulation. It flushes veins, arteries, and capillaries, forcing blood to the surface and pushing the cold downwards, helping the extremities and adapting us to the cold.
Another important health benefit is the boost of the immune system. The cold water helps to boost the white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to the change in temperature. Over time, this enables the body to become better at activating its defenses.
Increased metabolism is also a positive impact brought on by swimming in cold water, as the body must respond to the cold temperatures. To keep everything warm while in the water, the heart must pump faster, and the body must work harder. This in turn leads to the burning of more calories. Couple this with the ab work, effective cardio training, and the strenuous exercise you do while cold-water swimming, and your whole body is getting a workout.
Experts recommend that if you are thinking about giving cold-water swimming a try, you should consider wearing neoprene socks and gloves, never staying in the water for too long and having warm clothes ready to get changed into. A cold blast in the shower every day is also said to be beneficial, preparing you for the plunge by acclimatizing you with the cold. Water safety is of the utmost importance, so always check advice and guidance before entering the water.