We have compiled a recommended list of Cold Water Swimming Essentials that will make swimming in the colder months more enjoyable and safe.
The health benefits of cold water swimming have long been suspected with tales of character forming icy plunges passed down through the generations. Now science is starting to back up the anecdotal evidence with studies that suggest that there are lasting positive effects of a cold outdoor swim.
We are only just starting to understand how cold water immersion affects the human body and studies are still in the early stages.
An Increased Tolerance to Stress
Submerging yourself in cold water is not everyone's idea of fun. The low temperature of the water creates a stress reaction in the body, the same kind of reaction we experience if we find ourselves in a scary situation. The body releases the a stress hormone and breathing frequency and heart rate increases. The body’s fight or flight mechanism kicks in, which is why the natural reaction to getting into cold water is to want to get out as fast as possible.
As anyone who has been brave enough to get into the cold water knows the reaction recedes as you adjust to the temperature. There is evidence to suggest that repeatedly putting your body into cold water reduces the severity of the initial stress reaction.
It may not be that swimmers become acclimatized to the water, they just get used to the body’s reaction and the reaction itself becomes less severe.
The great news is that the reduction in the stress response applies in other stressful situations, not just jumping into cold water. Your reaction to other stressful events is also reduced.
A Self Esteem Boost
The process of forcing yourself to stay in cold water could also making you mentally stronger. Getting out of your comfort zone builds confidence and courage as well as giving you a sense of accomplishment. Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable you increase your resilience in other areas of life.
Swimming as a Mindfulness Exercise
When you swim in cold water you send your nervous system into overload. Nerve endings transmit strong responses to your brain, telling you how cold parts of your body are.
Your brain can only deal with so much information. With the intense sensations of the temperature to focus on there is no space left to go over your to-do list or worry about anything other than the cold. Focusing on the present moment is a type of mindfulness exercise and offers a time out from the constant churning of our everyday thoughts.
Ice baths are used by elite athletes to speed up recovery. The science is simple - your body reacts to the cold temperatures by pumping blood away from your extremities to protect your core.
The low blood flow to your limbs decreases inflammation, allowing muscles to recover much quicker. Cold water swimming is natures ice bath!
The science isn't conclusive on this one but many swimmers report fewer coughs and colds than their non-swimming friends, and there is a theory to back it up. The stress reaction caused by cold water immersion is suspected to trigger an increase in white blood cell production, providing a natural boost to your immune system.
When you add together the physical and mental benefits of swimming then it is certainly plausible that there is a positive impact on the immune system.
Swimming in open water - especially salt water - may have beneficial effects on your skin. Sea water is packed full of magnesium, calcium and potassium which is all great for the skin! Sea water is also a mild antiseptic and can help damaged skin to heal.
The Famous Post Swim High!
The after swim high is a real thing, as the mix of exercise and cold water exposure triggers a release of the body's feel good hormone dopamine. If you swim with a friend or - even better - in a group the chance to share and compare your experience with like-minded people makes the experience even better.
Even though the water is cold there are plenty of reasons why pushing through your resistance and persisting with cold water swimming is a great thing to do 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.