Chilly dipping: What are the benefits?
Feb 1, 2022, 4 min read
Cold water swimming is all the rage at the moment, and for good reason. Whether you’re interested in going for a dip or for a lengthy swim, there are great benefits to plunging yourself into that ice-cold body of water. Let’s take a quick look at the most recent craze and what the research has to say.
Here in the UK, we see groups dedicated to cold water swimming gain popularity. Founder Liv set up Chilly Dippers while studying at the University of Edinburgh. Liv wanted to help others experience the mental and physical benefits of cold water swimming, and they now organise dips across the UK.
Similarly, Hayley Dorian set up Wild Sea Women with the goal of inspiring others to ‘step outside of their comfort zones, to feel the power of the sea and other natural cold water for the mind, body and soul.’
What can cold water swimming do for our minds and bodies?
Cold water swimming has some serious benefits for our bodies. Let’s have a look at a few of them.
Balances your immune system
By forcing your body to adapt to the cold water, you’re boosting your white cell count, helping to improve the function of your immune system. Even as little as one to three minutes spent in cold water regularly is bound to improve your immune function.
By flushing your veins, arteries, and capillaries, that chilly dip helps warm your extremities. Over time, it improves your overall circulation and allows your body to adapt to the cold better.
Aside from the exercise that swimming gives you, dipping in cold water requires your heart and body to work harder to keep your body warm (and functioning) while immersed. And how do your heart and body create the energy to work harder to keep you alive in freezing cold water? By burning calories, of course!
Cold water swimming also benefits your brain
By activating the release of endorphins, our happy hormones, cold water swimming positively affects your brain and mental health. Some studies show cold water swimming can help battle depression, and it can also help boost proteins in the brain that help stave off dementia and reduce neural degeneration.
Helps with depression
A case study of a 24-year-old woman with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and anxiety found that cold water swimming immediately improved her mood. After swimming once or twice per week for a month she was able to reduce her medication, and after 4 months, she no longer needed medication treatment. Even a year after the initial study, she still felt the positive effects of cold water swimming.
The more frequently you take icy dips, the more your body learns to adapt. Jumping into cold water triggers the body’s fight or flight response, and the more you trigger that response while knowing you’re not in danger, the more able you are to handle other stressful situations. This makes you less reactive to the shock of cold water and potentially less reactive to other everyday stressors.
Fosters a sense of community
Cold water swimming does bring risks, so it is always advised to go cold water swimming with a companion or a group. The increased popularity of cold water swimming has brought about various wild swimming groups that offer a great community of like-minded individuals and organise swimming events. You can check out the Outdoor Swimming Society’s list of wild swimming groups to find one near you.
Swimming in cold water activates the release of endorphins, the feel-good chemical that triggers a positive feeling in the body, similar to morphine. This explains why many cold water swimmers describe a euphoric sense of ‘swimmers high’ following a cold water dip.
Connects you with nature
As we've seen in our previous article, connecting with nature has numerous mental health benefits. “Nature is a place in which we can experience deep emotions, such as awe, which can also have a transformative effect,” according to Aura Goldman, lecturer, and psychotherapist. By doing outdoor swimming or dipping, you also get closer in touch with nature.
Although cold water swimming has numerous benefits, it does come with certain risks. One significant risk includes cold shock and hypothermia, so make sure you do your research before jumping into icy water. Be sure to do your research and learn how to safely incorporate cold water swimming into your routine.
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