The ocean is my solace, my place of calm, my refuge and also my playground. I have always loved the ocean, and will happily swim in any weather, but it wasn’t until recently that I realised the tremendous health benefits it offers. Here I share some of the many reasons why we swim in cold water and why you should too.
Swimming in cold water may not appeal to many, but it could be the key to your physical and mental health this season. Getting into cold water places our body under controlled micro stress. As we do this repeatedly, our body learns to respond and recover from the stress quicker each time. This then enables us to manage physical and mental stresses in our day more effectively too as we learn to control our stress report.
It can boost your immune system
When we swim in cold water our body is forced to react to the changing condition and it fires up our sympathetic nervous system to protect us. This voluntary action can, when repeated over time, help our body to activate its defences faster.
It can improve circulation
When we swim in cold water our heart has to work harder to force the blood to our extremities to keep us moving and keep us warm. As it does this, it flushes your veins, arteries, and capillaries and aids the lymphatic system in expelling toxins from our body.
It can reduce inflammation
Swimming has long be known as a superb low impact exercise for our joints, but cold water swimming can go one step further. As adrenaline and endorphins are released, this can soothe or even stop joint pain and reduce inflammation over time.
It can support and sustain mental health
Cold water swimming is by no means a cure for any condition, however our body released endorphins when in the water which gives us a natural high. This study in the British Medical Journal on a 24-year-old woman shows its effects. She had been treated for symptoms of a major depressive disorder and anxiety since the age of 17, but wanted to live medication and symptom free after the birth of her daughter. She began open water swimming each week and this led to an immediate improvement in mood following each swim and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression. A year later she was medication free.
How to swim safe
Cold water swimming is a euphoric experience, but it can be dangerous too. These are some important safety tips from the Outdoor Swimming Society:
- Never swim alone
- Never go out of your depth
- Keep immersions brief – a few minutes is all you need
- Warm up when you get out with layers, hats, gloves and a warm drink
- Have something to eat to rasie your blood sugar
- Walk around to raise your body temperature
- Never have a hot shower straight after as the sudden change in blood flow can cause you to pass out.
As with any exercise, cold water immersion affects your blood pressure, heart rate, and circulation, which means it can cause serious cardiac stress. If you have a heart condition or any underlying health condition, please discuss the risks with your doctor first.
Join a cold water swim
Each month Mental Health Swims hosts cold water swim meets up and down the country. I host one here in Aberavon, Port Talbot and you would be so welcome to join us! Details can be found here. Alternatively, check out Mental Health Swims for other meets.