Cold water swimming (which is also called winter or ice swimming) has a long tradition in northern countries. Up until a couple of years ago, ice swimming was practised by very few extreme athletes. For a number of years now, ice swimming has been held as competitions in ice-cold water (colder than 5 °C).
Fans are of the belief cold water swimming is the elixir of health and well-being. In fact, the first claims of the advantages of cold water swimming date back to 400BCE. Since then many different studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that it has a wide variety of benefits.
An Increased Tolerance To Stress
Immersing yourself in cold water is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. The temperature of the water generates a stress reaction in the body, which is the same kind of reaction which we experience if we find ourselves in a frightening or tense situation. The body releases the stress hormone which is called cortisol. In addition, breathing frequency and heart rate rises. The body’s fight or flight mechanism comes into play, which explains why the natural response to getting into cold water is that you want to get out of the water as fast as you possibly can.
As anybody who has braved an icy dip will know, the stress reaction diminishes as you adjust to the temperature. At the moment, there is evidence which suggests that repeatedly putting your body through cold water immersion gradually lowers the seriousness of the initial stress reaction. It might not be that cold water swimmers become accustomed to the water; they just get used to their body’s reaction as well as the reaction itself becomes far less severe.
The real magic is that the drop in the stress response applies in other stressful situations and not just on exposure to cold water. Your reaction to other stressful events – such as writing an exam, bungee jumping – is also lowered.
It Boosts Your Immune System
The impacts of cold water on the immune system have been widely studied. Cold water assists with boosting the white blood cell count as the body is forced to react to altering conditions. Over time, your body will become better at mobilising its defences.
A Boost To Self Esteem
The process of pushing yourself to stay in cold water could increase your mental strength. Getting out of your comfort zone improves confidence and courage as well as giving you a sense of accomplishment. By getting comfortable with being uncomfortable you increase your resilience in other areas of life.
It Burns More Calories
The heart needs to pump faster and the body has to work harder in order to keep everything warm while swimming in cold water. Overall, you will burn a lot more calories as opposed to swimming in hotter conditions. The idea that drinking cold water boosts the number of calories you burn could be a myth, however it’s a fact that cold water lowers your body temperature so much that the body needs to act. It’s no accident that cold water swimmers are often thin.
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