Cold water swimming, especially in wild locations, comes with a variety of physical and mental health benefits.
The colder the water, the better it is for you, whether that be in the sea, a lake or a river. Cold open-water swimming has been linked to:
- Pain relief
- Improved circulation
- Reduced inflammation
- Better concentration
- A significant positive effect on chronic low-mood and stress.
Inducing the Stress Response
These health benefits come from inducing the body’s natural stress response. Through cold water swimming your body learns to self-regulate and overcome the stress induced by the water.
The human stress response is an instinctive survival mechanism that reacts to your environment. So, any sudden change in your metabolic rate, like a change in temperature, will trigger a stress response.
During this process your brain floods the body with stress hormones, which create a state of shock. This then triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which works to regulate your metabolism. Once regulated any physiological sensations and emotions fall back into equilibrium and you will feel calm again.
By regularly inducing a stress response in your body through cold water swimming, you train yourself to be more efficient at regulating stress. So for those with anxious thoughts or panic attacks, cold-water swimming can help to train your body to overcome anxiety.
Immersing your face in cold water is key, as this stimulates the vagus nerve. This helps to slow your heart rate, relax the body, and activate metabolism.
By submerging your face under water you trigger the mammalian dive response, which is where the somatic nerves of the facial muscles react to water and causes your heart rate to slow and muscle tissue to store more oxygen.
Cold water swimming can also have a positive impact on your physical wellbeing. When the body is exposed to cold the blood vessels constrict, restricting blood flow and as a result reduce inflammation. So, if you have aches and pains that never seem to go away, cold-water swimming could be the answer.
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Mindfulness is the practise of being fully engaged in the present moment, aware of where we are and what we’re doing and not focusing on any distractions. To be mindful is to be fully present in the given moment.
Cold water swimming and being in nature provide the perfect conditions to keep you present. It’ll be hard to focus on anything but the physical sensations you experience.
When you’re in the water, it’s important to focus on your breathing and your movement through the water. You’ll disengage from any worry or stress in your life and find yourself completely present.
Swimming in cold water takes courage, just the act of going and having the discipline to stay in the water can improve your sense of self-worth. It’s not an easy feat to be a cold-water swimmer.
How to Start Cold Water Swimming
To begin your cold-water swimming journey its best to start small. It can be daunting to go out into nature and plunge into the cold. Instead try starting with something less intimidating.
You can simply reduce the temperature of your morning showers, taking it one day at a time until you’re not using heat at all.
As you ease yourself into cold water immersion be mindful of your breath and don’t allow yourself to tense up. Take deep breaths and relax. Essentially, you’re training yourself to be comfortable in the discomfort that comes with the cold.
Another great option to try before taking the plunge is spending time outside in the cold. If you wear light layers this can trigger the same stress response cycle in the body without the intensity of cold-water swimming.
When you feel ready to swim in the wild you can find your local swim group online.
Be Safe When Cold Water Swimming
If you’re wanting to give cold open-water swimming a try, it’s important to do so safely. When swimming remember to:
- Tell someone where you’re going and what your plan is.
- Swim with other people who are familiar with the area you’re swimming in.
- Be aware of your surroundings, keep in mind entry and exit points of the water.
- Enter the water gradually and allow your body to acclimatise.
- Ensure you’re visible in the water, either with a bright float or swim cap.
For further advice on lifestyle changes to better your mental health, contact our experts at Ceed today.