• Culture

The big chill: the rise of cold water swimming

Dive in (if you dare)

By: Felicity Bonello

We’ve been curious about cold water therapy since The Goop Lab introduced us to Wim Hof. Now it seems wherever we turn, people are taking the plunge into the world of ice-baths and winter ocean swims. We’re a far cry from a hot summer’s day here in the southern hemisphere right now, and with so many people getting amongst the movement in the dead of winter, it begets the question, why?

Two simmers in the ocean in yamba
Winter, cold water swimming is having a moment. Image Elise Hassey

Between our initial cold shock response and the adaptation that happens over the duration you’re in the water, it turns out cold water swimming will do wonders for your mental and physical health.

Chill, you’re more stress resilient

Initially, cold water swimming puts stress on the body both physically and mentally, but just as stress causes an adrenaline surge (which culminates in a person’s fight or flight response), it also kick-starts the immune system, and activates the body’s defences. Just think, every time you repeat your cold-water swimming experience, you’ll have more control over your stress response, which will ensure you’re in better shape to cope with stress when you’re out of the cold water too.

Bone-chilled but blissful

While cold water will increase our capacity to cope with stressful situations, it also reduces inflammation as well as our risk of depression too. You see, while it’s easy to focus on the cold, it’s what happens afterwards—the surge of endorphins—that’s the real secret. You can expect heightened alertness, improved concentration and a mood lift following each cold-water swim, because, as well as activating your endorphins, cold water swimming is also a form of exercise, which is proven to help mental health.

Three swimmers in a row at a pool
Along with being good for anxiety, cold water swimming is guaranteed to boost your mood thanks to a rush of endorphins. Image arbonauts/instagram

Re-wired circulation

Plunge into cold water and while you may only feel the stunning electricity of liquid burning cold, your blood is on the move! Essentially the cold water allows your blood and oxygen to flow faster around your skin, your vital organs, and your body in general. It solidifies in that overwhelming sense of warm flush you feel when you get out and warm up. Basically, cold water swimming is a win for your heart health!

Wait, what? Weight loss?

When you swim in cold water, your body needs to work hard simply to stay warm. The colder the water, the harder your body will work to convert fat to energy, and consequently you will burn more calories. Combine this with an actual swimming workout and your calorie burn will significantly increase. Coupled with an upsurge in metabolism, you can expect that toxins will be more readily flushed out of your system too.

Revived and ready to rest

Naturally straight after your cold water reset you can expect to feel a renewed sense of confidence (as you should I mean, look at your willpower). The thing is, as well as invigorating and motivating you, cold water stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the rest and digest system), which will result in a sense of well-being, satisfaction, and good night’s sleep.

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