Why I started…..
As a holistic therapist I have always been interested in natural ways to look after your health. For about the last four years I have been cold showering in the mornings and following someone called Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman! He’s a completely crazy Dutchman who is evangelical about the health benefits of cold water immersion!
I had heard so much about it, especially how beneficial it is for middle-aged women and as someone who had started to have a bit of Raynaulds Syndrome (painful cold white fingers in reaction to the cold) I started to become a bit obsessed about giving it a go to see if it could help me. I also felt couldn’t recommend it as beneficial to people’s health unless I was willing to give it a go myself!
During lockdown I really felt like I wanted to reconnect with nature and also combined with all the pools being closed I decided to start open water swimming. I have always been a swimmer and it seemed like an amazing way to get a nature fix and health boost all at the same time.
I didn’t know anyone else that did it & dragged my friend Julie with me to give it a go. The first day we went, the outside temperature was 0c degrees and the lake was 6c. I was in a wetsuit and thought even if I just get in and back out again it will be an achievement, but I actually managed to swim a whole circuit before getting out and was so proud of myself!
The Health Benefits
There are more & more studies being conducted into why cold water immersion & swimming are so good for you. I think it’s important to say at this point – it doesn’t need to be a big swim – any cold water immersion will benefit!!
It boosts your immune system
Cold water helps to boost the white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to changing conditions. Over time, your body becomes better at activating its defences.
It converts white fat to brown fat
We have 2 types of fat – brown fat is more healthy for the body – it breaks down sugar and white fat molecules to regulate your body temperature & the more brown fat we have the better our metabolism works. The more brown fat we have as a ratio to white, the less likely we are to become obese or develop diabetes.
It improves your circulation
Cold water swimming flushes your veins, arteries, and capillaries. Initially it takes blood to the core to keep our organs warm & after we get out, it forces blood to the surface and helps to warm our extremities. Repeated exposure adapts us to the cold but also exercises all those blood vessels helping to keep them supple. Lowering blood pressure & cholesterol.
Importantly, this function also enables us to better control our body temperature. Which is one of the reasons it’s so helpful for Menopausal women, helping to reduce Hot Flushes.
It reduces inflammation
Cold water swimming helps to reduce pain & inflammation which in turn helps to relieve symptoms of many autoimmune disorders & other ailments. (Reduction in Pro-inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stressors)
It can boost your hormones & increase your libido!
A dip in cold water boosts oestrogen and testosterone production. This is significant for menopausal or post-menopausal women – increased oestrogen helps to reduce stress levels & boosts your mood, protects your heart, brain & bones, keeps certain areas moist, helps you sleep better & overall reduces any menopausal hormonal symptoms.
Increased testosterone, (women do have it too) helps with energy levels & libido! The benefits of increased libido include more confidence, higher self-esteem, and enhanced mood.
It burns calories
The heart has to pump faster in cold water and the body must work harder to keep everything warm while swimming. Overall, far more calories are burned during cold water swimming than swimming in warmer conditions; the cold water decreases your body temperature so much that the body must act. So ironically in the winter you can burn more calories warming up after swimming than you actually do in the water as you can’t stay in too long!
It gives you a natural high
Cold water swimming activates endorphins. This chemical is what the brain produces to make us feel good during activities. This also helps with pain management.
Linked to this are the mental health benefits of the high created by the endorphin release. This happens whenever you exercise, but is magnified by swimming in the cold water and it has been proven to help depression & low mood.
It reduces stress
Cold water swimming places stress on the body physically and mentally. Many studies have identified the link between cold water and stress reduction. It can actually change the chemistry of our body & brain to help alleviate depression & anxiety. Cold water sends electrical impulses to the brain which jolt the system to increase alertness, clarity & energy levels.
The mental health benefits of making yourself do something you know is going to be uncomfortable has far reaching benefits of training your brain to cope with stress & also step out of your comfort zone. Making you much more able to cope with life in general and overtime become calmer and more relaxed.
It is a great way of socialising and making new friends
There is an amazing sense of community and camaraderie amongst cold water swimmers. There is nothing that brings people together like facing a challenge and sharing the experience as a group. You would not believe the chatter & excitement when the lakes froze over in December – people couldn’t wait to get in & experience it! The winter swims are definitely more about community than fitness!
My personal experience of cold water swimming……
When I enter the water I can feel the coldness gradually creeping up me as I walk further in. I often yell or sing once I immerse my torso in the water as a reaction to the coldness!
My body feels completely supported and like it’s enveloped in a watery comfort blanket. Even when it’s freezing cold!
My skin tingles and if it’s cold enough, even feels a bit like it’s on
fire! My senses are completely alive and I can focus on nothing else! You become I become completely in-the-zone.
I swim with just a costume because even when it’s freezing, I just love the sensation of the water against my skin. I feel completely ‘at one’ with nature; completely immersed and ‘part of’ nature.
Afterwards I feel completely amazing it definitely helps to make you feel happy & more relaxed!
It’s an absolutely incredible feeling and it’s very addictive! Which is why cold swimmers will absolutely rave about their hobby and want everyone to join in!
I no longer have Raynaulds, my tolerance of the cold has improved & I don’t really have any Menopausal symptoms!
I just wish I lived close enough to a body of water so I could do it every day!
If you want to give it a go…….
Open water swimming is not without risks & there are a few recommendations we would make if you fancy trying it:
- Don’t swim in open water alone
- A tow float & brightly coloured hat will keep you safer in the water
- Go into the water slowly – it’s really important NOT to jump in – I can cause your body to go in to shock
- Gradually build up your tolerance to the cold water – don’t stay in too long. If you start to actually feel warm, get out asap.
- If you want to start doing cold water swimming regularly consider watching an open water safety video or doing an intro session
- Beware the ‘After Drop’ when you get out. When you leave the water your body’s core will continue to drop for about 10 mins before it starts to warm up. At that point you might get the shivers as your body warms back up. So get out & get dressed quickly!
- Always make sure you have recovered fully before you go home. Bring hot drinks & a bit of food with you or buy at the lake.
- If you have a heart or blood pressure issue or any other significant health issue, you may want to consult your GP beforehand.
Most important thing to remember is to have FUN!