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Is Cold Water Swimming Good for You?

Numbers of cold water swimmers have soared since the beginning of the pandemic. 

What used to be the small committed group of winter swimmers at Melbourne’s beaches has now turned into a vast array of daily participants. 

But is it actually good for you? 

The anecdotal evidence is clear.  If you’ve a friend who takes a cold dip in the ocean, they’ll tell you that there’s nothing like the feeling of euphoria, even after just a quick jump in the water. 

The science is also there but is only beginning to back up the anecdotal evidence. There are currently a number of new studies underway. In the meantime after wading (haha) through a number of articles claiming ‘this and that’ online, we found this information from Swim Secure UK, that clearly outlines the benefits and existing evidence: 

Post Swim High. The fabled after swim high is a real thing, as the mix of exercise and cold water exposure triggers a release of dopamine, the body’s feel good hormone. If you swim with a buddy or in a group the chance to share and compare your experience with like-minded people intensifies the experience

An Increased Tolerance to Stress. The temperature of the water creates a stress reaction in the body. The body releases the stress hormone cortisol and breathing frequency and heart rate increases. The body’s fight or flight mechanism kicks in, explaining why the natural reaction to getting into cold water is to want to get out as fast as possible. The stress reaction recedes as you adjust to the temperature. There is now evidence to suggest that repeatedly putting your body through cold water immersion gradually reduces the severity of the initial stress reaction. The real magic is that the reduction in the stress response applies in other stressful situations, not just on exposure to cold water. Your reaction to other stressful events is also reduced.

A Boost to Self Esteem. The process of forcing yourself to stay in cold water could be increasing your mental strength. Getting out of your comfort zone builds confidence and courage as well as giving you a sense of accomplishment. By becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable you increase your resilience in other areas of life. 

Swimming as a Mindfulness Exercise. When you immerse yourself in cold water you are sending your nervous system into overload. Nerve endings transmit responses to your brain, telling you just how cold parts of your body are. Your brain only has limited bandwidth and with the intense sensation of the water to focus on there is no space left for your brain to go over your to-do list or worry about anything other than the cold. This focus on the present moment has much in common with mindfulness exercises and offers a welcome time out from the constant churning of our everyday thoughts. 

Decreased Inflammation. Ice baths are used by elite athletes all over the world to aid post performance recovery. The science is simple, your body reacts to the cold temperatures by directing blood away from your extremities to protect the organs in your core.The low blood flow to your limbs decreases inflammation and allows muscles to recover much quicker. A bracing dip can give you all the benefits of an ice bath.

Increased Immunity. 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. 

Radiant Skin. Swimming in open water – especially sea water – may have beneficial effects on your skin. Salt water is awash with magnesium, calcium and potassium which is all good news for the skin. Sea water is also a mild antiseptic and may encourage damaged skin to heal.” 

According to New Scientist writer and ex-Antarctic biologist Alison George, anything below 15 degrees is considered ‘cold water swimming’, and it will take about 6 swims to acclimatise to the water (Radio New Zealand). 

Check out this BBC article for safety tips to read before you take a dip (including going in slowly, and swimming with a friend or two 🙂 ). 


Enjoy and stay safe! 

The Stable Team