Cold Water Swimming: Benefits, Tips & More

by Global Viewpoint
Cold water swimming benefits featured image

Are you tired of the same old pool routine? Looking for a new way to shake up your swim workouts? If so, consider taking the plunge into the world of cold water swimming.

That’s right, we’re talking about jumping into icy waters on purpose! It may seem crazy at first, but trust us, the benefits of cold water immersion are worth it. From improved cardiovascular health to a boost in mood and self-confidence, cold water swimming has so many health benefits to offer. And not only is it good for your body, it’s a lot of fun as well!

In this article, we’ll dive (pun intended) into the many physical, mental, and emotional benefits of this unique form of exercise. After all, swimming in cold water benefits so many different parts of the mind and body. So grab your wetsuit, goggles (and goosebumps), and let’s get started on cold water swimming!

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Cold water swimming is for every types of outdoorsy person
Disclosure: This article on cold water swimming contains affiliate links, where I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

What is cold water swimming?

Cold water swimming is exactly what it sounds like – swimming in cold water! Also known as ice swimming or winter swimming, it’s the practice of swimming in water that is generally below 59°F (15°C).

While it may seem counterintuitive to intentionally jump into freezing water, cold water swimming has gained popularity in recent years due to its numerous health benefits. Wim Hof and other internet celebrities swear by this practice – using it in their own healing and personal development journeys.

I enjoy swimming in cold water because of the physical and mental benefits, as well as that invigorating feeling you get afterwards. But don’t just take my word for it – give it a try and see for yourself! And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even join a group of fellow cold water enthusiasts and participate in a “polar bear plunge” – a popular event where people brave the cold and take a dip in the ocean or a lake on New Year’s Day. A popular bucket list activity for sure!

Canada is a dreamy place for swimming in ice water
Canada is a dreamy place for swimming in ice water

Where can you practice cold water swimming?

Whether you prefer to swim in natural bodies of water like lakes, rivers, and oceans, or in the controlled environment of a man-made pool, there’s a chilly spot for you.

Lakes and rivers are great options for cold water swimming, especially in the winter months. The natural surroundings can be beautiful and serene, but it’s important to be cautious of hazards like rocks or debris. Also, it’s a good idea check for any local regulations or laws before diving in.

If you’re feeling adventurous, the ocean is another option for cold water swimming. I’ve practiced cold water swimming in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and it’s truly an incredible experience. Just be prepared for the added challenge of strong currents and waves, and always swim with a buddy. And don’t forget to bring warm clothes for afterwards, you’re going to need it!

Man-made pools are a more controlled option for cold water swimming. Many outdoor and indoor pools have heaters that can be turned off or set to a lower temperature, allowing you to get your chilly swim fix. Swimming in a pool also gives you the ability to control the temperature and conditions of the water. This makes it a safer option for those who are new to cold water swimming.

No matter where you choose to do your winter swimming, be sure to follow safety guidelines and gradually acclimatize to the cold water to avoid any potential risks (like turning into a human popsicle). With proper preparation and caution, cold water swimming can be a fun and rewarding activity for people of all ages and abilities. So don’t be afraid to take the plunge!

Take a polar plunge in a glacial lake and you'll reap the benefits
Take a polar plunge in a glacial lake and you’ll reap the benefits

Top 10 health benefits of swimming in cold water

Even without the cold water, there are countless health benefits of swimming. And when you add some chilly water to the workout, the advantages multiply ten-fold for cold water swimmers. Here are all the benefits of cold water swimming, ranging from physical and mental to emotional and spiritual.

Physical benefits of cold water swimming

In addition to being a thrilling and unique form of exercise, cold water swimming also has a number of physical benefits. Here are a few reasons to take the plunge:

Improves heart health

One of the main physical benefits of cold water swimming is the improvement of cardiovascular health.

When you jump into cold water, your blood vessels constrict, which increases blood flow and can lead to a stronger heart. A study published in the Journal of Physiology found that regular cold water immersion improved blood pressure, heart rate variability, and arterial stiffness in healthy adults.

In other words, cold water swimming can give your ticker a little extra love. This is truly a benefit of cold water swimming that you won’t want to miss out on.

Swimming in such a gorgeous location will open up your heart as well
Swimming in such a gorgeous location will open up your heart as well

Boosts immune system

Cold water swimming can also help to boost the immune system. A study published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education found that cold water immersion increased the production of white blood cells, which are important for fighting off infections.

Whenever the body is under stress, the immune system is mobilized, thus preparing the army of white blood cells for battle. As a stressor to the body, the cold does an exceptional job in toning the immune system. So if you’re looking to boost your immune system, cold water swimming could be the answer.

Enhances endurance and strength

If you’re looking to boost your endurance and strength, cold water swimming might be just what you need. When an individual enters cold water, the body’s natural response is to shiver, which maintains a stable body temperature. This shivering causes muscle contractions, which can lead to an increase in muscle tone (Journal of Physiology, “Regular Cold Water Immersion Increases Heart Rate Variability and Decreases Arterial Stiffness in Healthy Adults”).

In addition to the shivering response, cold water can also provide a cardiovascular workout as the body works harder to maintain a stable body temperature. Per a study by the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, this increased effort can lead to an improvement in endurance and cardiovascular fitness.

It is important to note that the benefits of ice swimming on endurance and strength can vary depending on the individual and the duration and intensity of the immersion.

Looking to practice cold water therapy from the comfort of your own home? Here’s the best cold plunge on the market: The Edge Tub by Edge Theory Labs

The Edge Tub by Edge Theory Labs
Learn more about the Edge Tub here

Swimming in cold water benefits you by burning calories

Cold water immersion has been shown to have a positive impact on energy expenditure and calorie burn. When you jump into cold water, your body must work harder to maintain a stable body temperature. This increased effort can lead to an increase in energy expenditure and metabolism, resulting in an increase in calorie burn (International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, “The Effect of Cold Water Immersion on Immune System Function”).

One study found that cold water exposure increased energy expenditure by approximately 15% compared to resting state (Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, “The Effects of Cold Water Immersion on Cardiorespiratory and Metabolic Responses during Exercise”). Another study found that cold water immersion resulted in an average increase in energy expenditure of ~100 calories per hour.

It is important to note that the calorie-burning effects of cold water can vary depending on the individual and the duration and intensity of the immersion. Is this one of the best benefits of cold water swimming? Absolutely!

Swimming in cool water is great for metabolic health
Swimming in cool water is great for metabolic health

Reduces inflammation in the body

Cold water immersion has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. One possible mechanism for this effect is the release of norepinephrine, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that has anti-inflammatory effects. Another possible mechanism is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to the release of anti-inflammatory mediators.

Several studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effects of cold water immersion. One study found that cold water resulted in a reduction in the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These are the proteins that play a role in inflammation.

Another PubMed study found that cold water immersion reduced inflammation and improved muscle recovery following eccentric exercise. As such, it’s easy to see why this is among the top cold water swimming benefits.

Mental and emotional benefits of cold water swimming

Cold water swimming can also have a positive impact on mental and emotional well-being. The shock of cold water can trigger the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. This can lead to an improvement in mood and a sense of well-being. Here are some of the top mental and emotional benefits of swimming in cold water:

Relieves stress

Swimming in cold water has a calming effect on the body and mind, possibly due to the release of endorphins. Many people find that cold water swimming helps them to relax and unwind. This makes it a great way to cope with stress.

Improves mood

Cold water swimming has also been shown to have a positive impact on mood. The following CWI study found that cold water immersion increased feelings of well-being and happiness.

Increases confidence

Like other forms of physical activity, cold water swimming can be quite challenging, which can help to boost confidence and self-esteem. The sense of accomplishment that comes from conquering the cold can be a great boost to one’s confidence and self-worth. I’ve certainly noticed a huge increase in self-confidence and willpower thanks to regularly practicing cold water swimming.

Swimming is more fun in groups
Swimming is more fun in groups

Improves sleep

Cold water immersion (CWI) has been shown to improve sleep quality. Many people find that cold water swimming helps them to sleep better, possibly due to the calming effect of the cold water on the body and mind.

Increases focus and mental clarity

Cold water swimming has also been shown to improve focus and clarity of thought. One possible reason for this effect is the release of norepinephrine. This is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that has been shown to improve focus and mental alertness. Another mechanism is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to the release of neurotransmitters that can also improve focus and mental clarity.

Several studies have demonstrated the cognitive-enhancing effects of cold water immersion. One study found that cold water immersion improved attention and cognitive performance in a group of healthy young men. This shows that repeated cold acclimatization can have a positive affect on mental clarity and focus over time.

Looking to discover more advantages of ice bathing? Read next: Top 30 Scientific Benefits of Cold Water Immersion

Cold swimming: safety considerations

It is important to follow safety guidelines when participating in cold water swimming. Consider gradually acclimatizing to the cold water by starting with shorter swims in warmer water and slowly working up to colder temperatures. Depending on your level of experience and general health/fitness level, it may be a good idea to wear a wetsuit or drysuit to protect against hypothermia. Also, it’s always encouraged to have people with you during the cold exposure in the event of an emergency.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about cold water swimming

Beyond all the swimming in cold water benefits, there’s so much more to learn around this exercise. Here are some common questions (and answers) around swimming in cold water:

Is swimming in cold water good for you?

As this article has shown,swimming in cold water has a number of health benefits. Read the sections above to learn more about how cold water swims have an affect on your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Won’t I freeze to death if I go swimming in cold water?

No, you won’t freeze to death (at least not from the cold water). While cold water can be a shock to the system, your body is naturally very good at regulating its temperature and will work to keep you warm. Just be sure to follow proper safety guidelines, such as wearing a wetsuit or a drysuit (if the water is too cold), and take the time to gradually expose yourself to the cold. In other words, don’t overstay your welcome in the cold water on your first go – take it low and slow!

Ice water swimming in a lake
Ice water swimming in a lake

Is cold water swimming only for hardcore athletes?

Not at all! While cold water swimming can certainly be a challenging activity, it’s not just for hardcore athletes. In fact, cold water swimming can be a great activity for people of all fitness levels. Just remember to listen to your body and take it at your own pace.

Can I do cold water swimming all year round?

It depends on where you live and the temperature of the water. In some parts of the world, swimming in ice water is not possible during the warmer months, while in other places it’s possible to swim in the cold all year round. Just make sure to check the temperature of the water and follow proper safety guidelines.

Won’t I get hypothermia if I swim in cold water?

It’s possible, but it’s not very likely if you follow proper safety guidelines and acclimatize gradually to the cold. Hypothermia is more likely to occur in very cold water or if you are in the water for an extended period of time. Just make sure to take breaks to warm up if you start to feel very cold, and get out of the water if you are uncontrollably shivering or otherwise feel uncomfortable.

Is it safe to swim in cold water if I have a heart condition?

It’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before engaging in any new physical activity, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Cold water immersion can have an impact on blood pressure and heart rate, so it’s important to be aware of any potential risks and take appropriate precautions.

Swimming is an intense form of physical activity
Swimming is an intense form of physical activity

Can I swim in cold water if I’m pregnant?

It’s generally recommended to avoid swimming in freezing water during pregnancy, as the cold water can constrict blood vessels and potentially decrease blood flow to the baby. It’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before engaging in any new physical activity during pregnancy.

Is it safe to drink the water while cold water swimming?

It’s generally not recommended to drink the water while cold water swimming, as it may contain contaminants that can cause illness. It’s important to stay hydrated while swimming, but it’s best to bring along a bottle of water or sports drink and drink that instead.

Can I swim in cold water if I’m not a strong swimmer?

It’s important to be a confident and competent swimmer before attempting to swim in cold water. Cold water can be more challenging to swim in due to the effects of hypothermia and the increased risk of cramping, so it’s important to be able to swim well in order to stay safe. If you’re not a strong swimmer, it’s a good idea to take a swimming lesson or two before attempting to swim in cold water. However, if you’re still looking to retain the cold immersion benefits, I recommend starting out with a cold plunge without swimming.

Reasons you should try cold water swimming in 2023

Swimming in ice water has numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits. While it’s important to follow safety guidelines, the benefits of cold water immersion make it a worthwhile activity for those looking to improve their overall health and well-being.

So there you have it, the many benefits of cold water swimming. From improved cardiovascular health to a boost in mood and self-confidence, this unique form of exercise has lots to offer. Just be sure to follow safety guidelines and gradually acclimatize to the cold water to avoid any potential risks. And with that, we’ll leave you to your chilly aquatic adventures. Happy swimming!

Winter swimming is a fun physical activity in nature
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