At first glance, cold-water swimming sounds fairly self-explanatory and maybe a little odd. However, upon investigation, you’ll find blogs, pages, clubs, and communities built around the practice. Those who cold-water swim frequently swear by its benefits, both physical and mental. But what is it about cold-water swimming that is so transformative?
How does cold-water swimming affect your mental health?
Avid outdoor and cold-water swimmers cite the magical experience of reconnecting with nature in such a visceral way as a major boost to their mental health and wellbeing. But, there is some science behind why cold-water swimming supports better moods and healthier mindsets as well.
Exercise of any kind releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain called neuropeptides that relieve stress and pain. However, to combat the stinging sensation you feel when you first enter the cold water, your body produces even more endorphins to combat the initial discomfort. This could explain why so many cold-water swimmers recall feelings of euphoria and total stress relief throughout the experience.
In addition to the known mental health benefits of cold water swimming, substantial research is being performed and published in the British Medical Journal that studies cold-water immersion as a treatment for major depressive disorder.
This research explores links between stress response and inflammation. Immersing yourself in cold water shocks your body into fight or flight mode. In repeating this exercise, you stifle and control this stress response over time, which entails a better ability to cope with different stresses in daily life, chronic or otherwise.
This diminished stress response is about activating the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for slowing your heart rate and increasing gland activity.
Other health benefits of cold water swimming include:
- Increased metabolism
- Improved circulation
- Boosted immune system
Best places in London to go
- Brockwell Lido
- King's Cross Pond Club
- Hampstead Heath Mixed Bathing Ponds
- Tooting Bec Lido
- Parliament Hill Lido
Before you take a dive, Nike Swim’s Jane McCormick, a record-setting outdoor swimmer, has a few tips and tricks to make sure you’re staying safe during cold-water swimming.
- Think before you swim (do your research!)
- Consider wearing a wetsuit
- Never swim alone
- Enter the water slowly
- Know your limits