Curious about trying cold water therapy? Read on to discover how the new popular trend can improve your physical and mental health.
Cold water immersion has grown in popularity in recent years partly thanks to the sense of freedom it offers after years of lockdowns, but also as a result of the buzz, cold water swimming induces. In fact, it has become so popular that there are even cold water retreats, dedicated celebrity followers that swear by the activity plus, even TV shows on this new trend. Participants claim it can help with everything from your boosting your circulation to helping with your mental health. But what does cold water therapy involve exactly and is there any evidence behind the claims? Plus, what are some essentials we recommend bringing with you to keep you safe when you take part in the cold water swimming?
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What is cold water swimming?
Cold water immersion, also known as cold water swimming or cold water therapy means immersing your body in cold water that’s less than 15°C. Cold water therapy can involve taking an ice bath, going on an outdoor swim or even having a cold shower. Whichever you choose, it’s usually only for a few minutes at a time as the cold water can shock your body. This activity usually takes place swimming outdoors in a lake, river, sea or even a swimming pool. It usually takes place during the winter or in the colder and polar regions and is a very popular sport in Scandinavian countries due to the cold water and health benefits it provides.
Ice swimming is a more extreme type of cold water swimming. This is swimming in water that’s no more than 5°C. It’s become popular in recent years as part of the Wim Hof method. This combines cold therapy, breathing techniques and mental exercises. It aims to get your body and mind into the best possible condition using the shock of the water.
What are some of the benefits of cold water swimming?
Improves the Lymphatic and Immune Systems
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that run throughout the body, clearing out waste, bacteria and microbes from your cells. The lymphatic system essentially helps your body cleanse itself.
Cold water immersion causes your lymph vessels to contract, forcing your lymphatic system to pump lymph fluids throughout your body, flushing the waste out of the area. This then triggers the immune system’s white blood cells to attack and destroy any unwanted substance in the fluid. The cold water affects the lymphatic system, which in turn affects the immune system, which ultimately keeps you healthy for longer.
Improve Circulation and Heart Health
Having good circulation in your body is one of the most important parts of keeping yourself healthy. When you suffer from poor circulation, not only is your blood flow compromised, but your heart also becomes stressed. This can ultimately lead to fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, muscle cramping, and even in a worse case situation a heart attack or stroke.
Exercise and a healthy diet are two well-known ways to improve circulation. But cold-water immersion can also stimulate blood flow. When you immerse your body in cold water, the blood rushes to surround your vital organs. Your heart then is forced to pump more efficiently, pushing blood through all your vessels and supplying every part of your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
It Can Facilitate Weight Loss
When practised routinely, cold water immersion has been shown to boost the metabolism increasing the whole-body metabolic rate by around 16%. Having a higher metabolic rate can make you burn more calories than you were previously, so if weight loss is your aim then cols water immersion can really help.
These are just a few of the benefits that cold water immersion can have.
Boost Your Mood
If you’re feeling the winter blues or if you’re having trouble managing stress then cold water swimming or immersion can help and really boost your mood. Studies have shown that cold water can help improve depression. To translate, cold water triggers a flood of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, which make you feel happy.
How should you start cold water immersion?
So, you’re thinking about starting cold water immersion? Due to the shock of it to your system, it’s best to start small. At the end of your morning shower turn down the temperate as low as you can handle and stay in for as long as you can bare.
Focus solely on your breath, and take big deep controlled breaths. It starts off being quite uncomfortable and cold (obviously) however, after around 20-30 seconds your body starts to get used to the sensation and it doesn’t feel so cold.
Once you start getting more and more used to this you can then move on to either cold water swimming or cold water immersion depending on how cold you want the water and how much time you have!
What should I take with me when I go cold water swimming?
Keeping your head warm is really important as 50% of your body heat is lost through your head. So, whether it be a neoprene bonnet, swim hat or bobble hat a hat is essential to keeping you healthy whilst cold water swimming.
Nothing beats a warm and cosy drying robe for when you get out of the water, the instant heat is unbeatable.
Some people opt to not wear one, however, if you’re just starting out or if you are planning on staying in the water for a long period of time then a wetsuit can be the difference between a freezing cold swim and your body getting quickly used to the temperature.
Where do you put all that dripping wet gear when you get out? You could throw your things in a carrier bag but don’t expect these to be very leakproof. Here at Saltie Sports, we offer a range of different-sized dry bags, depending on how many towels and wetsuits you plan on storing in them.