While you might spot them on a chilly morning and shiver just at the thought of joining in, a growing number of cold-water swimmers swear by the mental and physical benefits of taking a dip in winter waters, including ice swimmer, adventurer, cold-water junkie and Red Paddle Co ambassador Fenwick Ridley.
When you plunge into cold water, you may only feel burning cold, but trust me, your blood is on the move! Essentially, the cold water allows your blood and oxygen to flow faster around your entire body. 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!
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. 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 when you’re out of the water (and into the office, home, or other day-to-day stressful environments).
An All-Round Boost
While cold-water swimming increases our capacity to cope with stressful situations, it also reduces inflammation, as well as the risk of depression. While it’s easy to focus on the cold, it’s what happens afterwards—the surge of endorphins—that’s the real surprise. 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 exercise, which is proven to help your mental health.
How To Approach Your First Cold-Water Swim
Ever heard the phrase 'you have to learn to walk before you can run'? Before you get carried away, understand that every cold plunge will be an individual experience and your body can react differently every single time depending on external factors. Swimming in lower temperatures can burn up to triple the amount of energy and the output is not to be taken lightly.
On the first or second run you may not last long—and that's normal. Keep it small, calm and collected in the beginning, and enter the water in a normal state; there's no need to 'warm up' prior as then you're heightening your body temperature, which can lead to cold water shock.
As you enter, try to avoid following your instinct and splashing your chest, and instead go for your arms and face, as this is known to have a calming effect and can reduce your heart rate by approximately 10–25%. By instantly splashing your chest, you'll heighten your gasp reflex and that's when people go into panic mode. Stay in until you've had enough, but if you get to a point where your hands are numb, you’ve gone too far.
Bear in mind that your body temperature will continue to drop even once you're back on land, so take this activity slowly and your body will reward you afterwards. To dry off, gently pat yourself down with a towel, avoiding any vigorous drying techniques as this can lead to sensitive skin and itching. Get yourself cocooned in clothes and a good quality change robe, as warming yourself from the inside out is crucial.
Part of what has made cold-water swimming so popular is its simplicity, but there are a few additional items that can make it a little more enjoyable once you’re hooked.
Unlike towels, which aren’t the best insulators, throwing a Red Paddle Co waterproof changing robe into the mix is ideal for changing at your cold-water swimming site and warming up comfortably.
Not only are swim caps helpful for managing long hair and keeping you warm, but they are also often brightly coloured which will help keep you nice and visible. I recommend silicone over latex as it’s more environmentally friendly.
Like a brightly coloured swimming cap, using a swimming tow float helps with more than just visibility on those murky weekend swims. They can also add as a perch to hold onto if you or your family members need a breather, and some even hold a drink, snack, or mobile phone!
While this all sounds a bit daunting, the euphoria cold-water swimming offers does become addictive and the mental and physical positives mentioned above outweigh any rocky starts—or sleep-ins
Loving the active lifestyle? Check out the best online yoga classes here.
Image credit: Urban List