Wild swimming, ice-baths, cryotherapy… these days, everywhere you turn it feels like humans are finding new ways to subject themselves to extreme cold – including this writer! These days, the shorter darker days of Winter have an upside for me: cold water swimming.
There’s nothing quite like swimming a few lengths in close-to-freezing water (anything below 8 degrees centigrade is classed as ‘Baltic’) to set you up for the day. First timers may be shocked (literally) by the intensity of the cold – a sensation that can sometimes feel like a thousand acupuncture needles on the skin along with an ache that goes all the way down to your bone marrow.
But don’t let that put you off – the sensation (some would call it pain!) does pass after a length or so (the general rule for experienced swimmers is a length per degree of temperature). You are then left with a feeling of lightness and renewed energy and even positivity that lasts the entire day. Studies have shown that cold water immersion has some very real health benefits too – it reduces swelling and inflammation after exercise and could improve cardiovascular health and possibly even lower cholesterol.
There is also evidence that it causes the release of mood-elevating hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as stimulating blood cells that fight infection – thus improving the immune system. There are lots of different ways to embrace the cold, from cold showers to ice baths to cold-water swimming, to cryotherapy sessions that expose the body to temperatures of between -85 to -140 degrees centigrade for up to four minutes at a time. All have a range of different benefits – and counter-intuitively, all of them give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside!