Benefits of cold water swimming
If you live in the Nordics, you will know that cold water swimming is more popular than ever. The craze of jumping into sometimes ice cold water, which has gained a lot of popularity over the past 10 years, is only becoming stronger for every winter season. For many, cold water swimming is often seen as a challenge or something to overcome, but you should never underestimate its benefits to the body and soul.
Let's take a closer look at cold water swimming.
What constitutes cold water swimming?
Cold water swimming is defined as swimming in water below 15 degrees Celsius. It is often said that it takes 15 minutes to get used to the coldness of an ice-cold pool, but this does not always hold up when you look at scientific research. A study by French scientists has shown that after only ten seconds in ice-cold water, your body starts reacting with a shivering response. Your body is then able to adapt after around five to ten minutes, which goes against the myth that it takes 15 minutes for your body to get used to cold water.
What happens when you jump into cold water?
When your body is exposed to cold water, it experiences a so-called "cold shock", which is a sudden and profound increase in gasping.
When you jump into cold water, the following stages roughly occur:
Stage 1 - The initial feeling of cold shock to the body
Cold shock is the feeling of having a lot of energy in your muscles and that you need to move, but it can also be described as experiencing panic for no reason at all. The best way to get through this initial reaction is by staying calm while trying not to hyperventilate or breathe fast.
Stage 2 - short term immersion
The 2nd stage happens 3-30 minutes into being under cold water.
When your body is exposed to a cold shock, its blood vessels will be closed down to protect the vital organs. This leads to your hands and feet getting cold very quickly, which is why it's important not to stay in the water for too long.
Your heart rate is also increased after a cold shock and your body is trying to keep the core warm, as your body temperature is falling rapidly. This means that you should not swim as fast or do other forms of exercise in order to avoid an increased cardiac output.
Stage 3 - hypothermia
A prolonged stay underwater will lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition in which your body loses heat faster than it is produced, cooling your vital organs. Hypothermia can eventually lead to death if the cold shock is not treated properly.
As you can see, a cold water shock can be very dangerous. Once the body has been in open water swimming in cold water for too long, the chain of events happening to body will occur much faster than you may actually be able to do something about it.
However, if cold water swimming is done controlled, then it has immense physical and mental health benefits. The feeling of a cold water shock can feel amazing to the body and mind. It can feel like pressing a reset button, which we all need sometimes and is why some people use the term "adrenaline addiction" to describe cold water swimming.
What are the benefits of cold water swimming?
The benefits to cold water swimming are immense. Some of the great benefits to swimming in cold water include:
Studies show that cold water swimming can help reduce stress. When you jump into cold water, your body experiences a cold shock and the muscles tense up immediately. This reaction is similar to what happens when we experience stress and our muscles also contract at that time. Therefore, by repeating this action of swimming in ice-cold water over and over again can help reduce overall stress levels on the body.
Boost immune system
Swimming in cold water will help boost the body's immune system. When you swim in cold water, your body starts to release a hormone called norepinephrine. This hormone has been shown to help regulate the immune system and can increase white blood cells.
The libido of cold water swimmers will increase - something which don't know.
Another great news for swimmers! Cold water swimming will impact your metabolism by increasing it! Exposure to cold water will increase the body's metabolism because it will shiver to generate heat. And consequently, the body's long term metabolism increases.
Help with depression
Mentally, cold water swimming can have a great impact as well. For instance, cold water swimming can help with depression. Swimming in cold water makes the body release endorphins, the body's natural feel good hormone. Studies have also shown that swimmers get an immediate feel good feeling in the body, which eventually can help reduce depression or the risk of becoming depressed.
In the long cold winters in the Nordics, cold water swimming really helps you feel happy and good about yourself.
Swimming regularly in cold water has been shown to increase a person's overall endurance and stamina levels as it forces you to slow down and stay within your comfort zone. This is because the body is constantly working to prevent hyperthermia and it makes it easier for them to exercise longer because their bodies are used to such activity of trying to regulate temperature which helps with exercising in general.
Feels great for the mind
The effects of cold water is simply great for the mind. We have already highlighted the feeling of resetting the mind after jumping in cold water. The positive impact on the mind goes hand in hand with the reasons cold water swimming can reduce stress and depression.
What are the risks associated with cold water swimming?
Before encouraging you to jump into the cold winter water, we will highlight the three major risks associated with cold water swimming.
First of all, cold shock response or a cold water drowning is something to avoid at all costs. It happens when the body does not have enough time to adjust and can lead to death, even for swimmers who are quite used to swimming in colder temperatures. The best way of avoiding this risk is by gradually increasing your exposure over time.
Secondly, hypothermia is a risk associated with cold water swimming because the body needs to expend energy in order to heat itself. And lastly, even if you are used to colder temperatures and have already been exposed for some time, you can still get hypothermia if your clothes become wet from waves or something alike.
How should you start cold water swimming?
A great way to get started is by joining a winter swimming club. Cold water swimming clubs are become increasingly popular. Being part of a club can help motivate you - especially in the beginning, where the thought of cold water swimming can seem daunting. For your own safety, doing it with an experienced group is much better. And lastly, becoming part of a group that motivates each other to get up early in the mornings for a cold water swim is amazing.