Has cold water swimming piqued your interest lately? Have you ever considered whether cold water swimming is good for you? You are not alone in considering this a possible addition to your outdoor activity routine, or perhaps something new to try. Despite the chilly temperatures, you may be surprised to learn that many people enjoy open water swimming during the winter months. As frigid as it sounds, winter swimming when the temperature drops, can actually provide a multitude of health benefits.
In this article, we’re going to discuss how swimming outdoors can boost your health and wellness. We’ll also share our best tips for cold water swimming for beginners.
What Is Cold Water Swimming?
Cold water swimming involves immersing yourself in cold water outdoors, most often in a lake or open water. Sometimes called wild swimming, it involves swimming in water temperatures the body is not used to, which activates the nervous system. This is why it’s generally not recommended to swim in waters with a temperature lower than 12 degrees celsius - as hypothermia can become a potential risk factor. However, if you follow a few basic tips that we’ll outline below, cold water swimming can have many benefits on your health and wellbeing.
Here are some of the health benefits of swimming in cold water:
- It’s great for mental health. Cold water swimming helps you to feel good by reducing stress and making you feel more relaxed.
- It helps to burn calories. Your heart rate tends to increase when swimming in cold water as the heart has to pump faster to keep you warm. This means more calories are burned than if you were swimming in warm water.
- It enhances your circulation. As cold temperatures force blood to the surface of your skin, it improves your circulation to help you become warmer.
- It boosts your immune system. Col water swimming improves your white blood cell count as your body has to adapt to changing conditions, such as low temperature. In the long-term, this aids your body in becoming better at initiating its defence system.
- It increases your libido. Cold water improves the production of testosterone and oestrogen which is great for libido and fertility. In turn, this can enhance your confidence, mood, and relationship with a partner.
- It helps you to socialise. Joining an outdoor swimming society/group gives you the chance to make new friends and share a new experience with like-minded people.
Cold Water Swimming Tips
Now you’re aware of the benefits, follow our top cold water swimming tips to avoid cold water shock and ensure you get optimal health benefits from open water swimming in cold temperatures.
1. Take cold showers
Start training for open water swimming by taking cold water showers at home first. This is the very best way for beginners to prepare for immersing themselves in very cold water. Being in very cold water can cause shock, resulting in hyperventilation. By acclimatising yourself for colder temperatures, your body will become familiar with it.
2. Choose the right clothing
A wetsuit made from neoprene protects your body from cold temperatures. Just ensure that it's flexible enough for you to swim in. Additionally, look for material that’s between 4 to 6 cm thick as this will help to maintain your body temperature. It’s a good idea to use a brightly coloured silicone swim hat to keep you visible in the water. Some other things to use are a swim tow float for extra protection in the water if you get cramp, goggles for improved vision in the water, and boots/wetsuit socks and gloves to protect your hands and feet from cold temperatures and injuries as you enter and exit the water.
3. Always warm up beforehand
Doing a quick jog before getting into cold water will help to increase your heart rate and body heat, preventing you from going into cold water shock when entering the water. It will also help to loosen your muscles, improving your flexibility during swimming.
4. Enter the water slowly
When the body is immersed in cold water, its natural reaction is to gasp for breath. Don’t be frightened by this as there will be some initial shortness of breath. Splash your face with some of the water first, then gently wade into the open water slowly. Keep your head above the surface. As the arteries may constrict, it's best to get advice from your doctor if you have asthma or a heart condition.
5. Don’t push yourself too hard
It’s important to know your limits when you’re a beginner to cold water swimming. Start with short sessions in the water, gradually working up towards longer lengths. Open water swimming is very different from indoor swimming and you can become tired very quickly. If you feel unusually tired, fatigued or achy, you could be at risk of hypothermia so get out of the water as soon as you can.
6. Don’t swim alone
It’s much safer to go cold water swimming with a friend or in a group. You’ll be able to track each other’s progress and stay close to each other when swimming. You could even join a swimming group to make new friends!
7. Keep close to the shore
Swimming close to the shore keeps you safe if you suddenly get cramp or become too cold or tired and need to get out of the water quickly. Weather conditions can also change quickly during winter months, meaning you may need to end your swim earlier than planned.
8. Get dressed in warm clothes
Avoid any temptation to have a hot shower after your cold water swim. This can cause your blood pressure to drop as your blood vessels open up too fast. Instead, dry off and get dressed in warm clothes. Have a hot drink and keep your body moving to get back to your normal body temperature.
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