Waiting until the water is ‘warm enough’ for a swim is a strategy that many of us subscribe to. We assume that swimming is something best done in high summer, when the water is pushing 20°C.
However, there are some powerful reasons to start the swimming season early, or even swim all-year round, especially if you’re over 65. That said, it would be wise to get the all-clear from your GP before you start any sort of extreme polar bear programme. The shock of getting into super-cold water can be dangerous if you don’t work up to it gradually or if you have a heart condition.
Here are some of the good health effects that come from swimming regularly in water that’s below 17°C.
- Dementia prevention or reversal
Researchers from Cambridge University have discovered something called ‘cold shock protein’ in the blood of regular winter swimmers, a protein that has been shown (in studies involving mice) to slow the onset of dementia and even repair some of the damage it causes.
The researchers studied the blood of winter swimmers at London’s Parliament Hill Lido, an unheated open air swimming pool that’s open all year round. These people are hardy souls who brave water that’s around 7°C in winter.
The findings were presented in an online lecture by Professor Giovanna Mallucci, Associate Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, but haven’t yet been published in a scientific journal. Professor Mallucci says the discovery could lead towards new drug treatments, which might help hold dementia at bay.1
- A boost for your immune system
The beneficial effects of cold water on the immune system have been studied widely. One study found that people who take cold showers are 29% less likely to call in sick for work. The researchers concluded that cold water triggers the body’s immune system, even if you’re only under the cold water for 30 seconds.2
- Stress management
In the UK, researchers dunked volunteers into frigid water, including the chilly water beside Brighton Pier. They discovered that cold water immersion can prime you, mentally and physically, to deal better with stress.3
- Treatment for depression
Cold water swimming activates endorphins, which make you feel good. The British Medical Journal published a case report about how cold water swimming successfully treated a young woman’s depression. There was an improvement in mood following every weekly swim.4
- Improved circulation
When you ease yourself (or dive) into cold water, you can immediately feel your body responding. Your blood circulation revs up to pump more blood into your organs and out to your extremities. Watch a video about an 83-year-old ice swimmer.
- Increased metabolism
When you swim in cold water, your body has to work hard to stay warm, so it burns more calories. If your aim is to lose some weight, it’s important not to over-fuel with high calorie foods after your swim.
- The opportunity to socialise
Joining a swimming group or join Moving Well Gym is a chance to meet others who want to experience the health benefits of swimming. Look for a group near you or consider starting your own, calling on friends and family to join you for a once-a-week cool dip at the nearest swimming beach.
Need someone to take you to the beach? If it’s been a long time between swims, having a Good Friends companion to help with excursions could be just what you need. Find out more about our Companionship service.