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Five emotional benefits of a (freezing!) cold dip

by Susan Tomlinson

I’ve become a cold water swimming bore. Who knew there was such a thing. But there is. I am walking evidence of it.

And this Winter, it seems I’m not alone. Everyone seems to be at it. Cold showers. Cold baths. Cold swimming. You name it. If there’s cold water to be had, there’ll be a queue of people lining up to jump in and erm, freeze.

I used to hate the cold. And I mean with a passion. People would walk into my house in Winter and complain it was like a sauna but with this new found relationship I have with the cold, I was the last in the family to even mention turning on the heaters this year. So not only has it seemingly altered my internal temperature gauge (and I guess that means my circulation) but it has also changed my relationship with the seasons. What used to be a pathological fear of the cold, (and Winter), seems to have changed and with that a sense of if I’m stupid enough to do this, the whole world takes on a sense of possibility.

And no matter how many times I jump in, I never lose the fear.

And I guess that’s the point. Afterwards I feel as if I could (maybe even like Wim Hoff, the man who championed cold water swimming) climb Everest in my underpants.

Like anything though, it’s to be treated with a little bit of caution. Alongside the euphorias and the highs, I’ve also witnessed people suffering from what is the beginnings of hypothermic shock: a grey, pale palor to the skin, uncontrollable shivering, confusion, weakness and loss of co-ordination. So, if you’re gonna try it, best to go easy.

Anyway, enough poolside chat. I’ve done a little bit of research and here’s what I’ve discovered about the benefits of a cold water splash.

It’s a stress buster

This study (and others beside show that cold water bathing will lower levels of uric acid, and boost levels of Glutathione in your blood – all in all making you less stressed.

Swimming improves emotional resilience

A cold dip acts as a form of oxidative stress on your nervous system, which according to this study improves over time. So the more you do this, the emotionally resilient you can become.

It can relieve depression symptoms

According to a recent study by Dr. Nikolai Shevchuk: “Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.”

(Like all these things, there are two sides to the story, as this opinion piece suggests, the above study is “sciency, rather than scientific.”)

But if you’re interested in finding more about this, check out the BBC series The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, a two part social experiment where Dr Chris van Tulleken takes over part of a GP surgery and stops patients’ prescription pills.

Swimming’s good for general immunity

Tired of getting colds in Winter? This study shows that a dip in cold water can help.

And it improves circulation

Cold water swimming flushes our veins, arteries and capillaries and repeated exposure adapts us to the cold.




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