The benefits of cold water immersion have been researched and documented for a while now, especially among surfers and those who love wild swimming in this beautiful country. At Circle One, we love getting out in the water all year round and helping others to do so too, whether by providing winter wetsuits, boots and gloves to stay warm in the water, or by spreading the word of the health benefits of cold water swimming. So for those of you thinking about jumping in, here are the reasons to take the plunge now!
When you submerge in cold water, blood is diverted from the blood vessels on the surface of your skin to around your central vital organs. The blood vessels here dilate, allowing more blood to flow and get oxygen to your internal organs and maintain your core temperature. This makes the blood flow more efficient. Once you get out of the water, the blood vessels on your skin and periphery dilute suddenly, allowing blood and oxygen to flow faster around your skin and body in general, which is why you may feel a pleasant warm flushing throughout your body, even if you are cold to touch. Doing this regularly can increase the overall efficiency of your circulation and can lower blood pressure, improve your heart health and immune system. People who regularly swim in cold water, have been found to suffer fewer minor illnesses such as coughs and colds and feel healthier.
Regular cold water swimming has been found to lead to reductions in whole body metabolic rate over an extended period of time. Swimming in cold water causes your body to react in order to produce more heat and maintain your core temperature. One of these adaptations is to increase your metabolism, burning fat in order to keep warm. Therefore, regular cold water swimming may lead to weight loss.
Improves Temperature Regulation
For anyone who regularly complains of being cold, and sits with the central heating on, plus a blanket, fluffy socks, hot water bottle and woolly jumper on, cold water immersion might be the magical cure you are looking for. Many scientists believe that in the world of easy ways to make us warm, our bodies have lost the ability to regulate our own temperature properly and now rely on external sources of heat to keep us warm. Research has shown that regular cold water swimming, immersion or even just cold showers can reset our internal body temperature regulator, and you can start to make yourself warm again when you are cold.
Enhances Mental Well-being
There have been quite a few studies in recent years suggesting cold water swimming can help protect against depression and can boost mood. This may be because you are putting your body under stress when immersing in cold water, and the stress response of your body to this then reduces over time, not just to cold water but other stimuli. Some say that the pain and sensations experienced while cold water swimming can silence the endless chatter in your brain if anxious, and bring yourself to the present. Once you have calmed yourself in the water and your breathing has slowed, this response by your body of calm can last for hours or even days afterwards leaving you feeling happy and calm. Cold can make you feel energised and active, even more so when paired with the activity of swimming. Getting outside even when it is cold, and experiencing natural beauty and peace, often with the bonding experience of other people, are all common factors to making you feel good, happy and relaxed.
How To Begin
As with many forms of exercise and the additional shock element, it is important to participate in cold water swimming safely and take the advice of medical professionals if you are at all unsure whether you should do it. Here are a few tips if you want to give it a go:
- Approach it with the same if not more caution as you would beginning an exercise programme. If you have any health issues, heart or circulatory problems or high blood pressure then consult a GP first and definitely start slowly, and with warmish water before going straight for ice cold winter water!
- Make sure you can swim and go with a friend or group who can swim and look out for each other.
- Start in summer or early autumn when UK sea temperatures are at their warmest around 15-20°C.
- Try swimming in a swimming wetsuit at first to get the feel of it and then maybe reduce down to swimming in only a costume after you’ve been doing it a little while and your body has adapted. There are some great 3mm thinner swimming wetsuits on the market as well as thicker 5mm for those looking to stay in the water in winter even longer!
- Start shallow and easy with a simple paddle and dip of your body before fully swimming.
- Go on a calm day if swimming in the sea. The initial few minutes when you may gasp and could inhale water if you are deep or swimming is the risky bit. Relax and just sit or stand in the water calmly with your head above the water for this period.
- Time yourself for two to three minutes submerged. Start with short periods of time and build up. Once your skin reaches the same temperature as the water you’ll feel warm.