The many benefits of an ice-cold swim

Advocates of cold-water swimming have long been singing its praises. From making participants feel fully invigorated to helping prevent the common cold, the ‘extreme’ sport is believed to have very positive effects on a person’s physical and mental health. A recent case study even suggests that it could be an effective treatment for depression, a problem that affects many expats.

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Feel happy

Those brave enough to venture into the ice-cold water describe the experience as making them feel truly alive. Causing a rush of adrenaline and an increase in ‘happy hormones’ such as serotonin and dopamine, the cold water quite literally lifts your mood. Even just a couple of minutes spent cold-water swimming can make you feel happy and invigorated for the full day. As British swimmer Jess Campbell states, ‘I feel fantastic. I get a huge buzz….a sense of elation, and I just want to do it again….It’s a definite mood-lifter’.

Health benefits

Frequent cold-water swimmers claim that they develop less illnesses. While the scientific evidence is still out on this one, cold-water swimmers swear by it. From preventing the common cold to reducing chronic pain, many believe that being immersed in cold water is very good for the body, boosting circulation and the immune system.

Stress relieved

Apart from making you feel happier, cold-water swimming can actually reduce stress.

Immersing yourself in cold water triggers stress responses in your body, including an increase in your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. However, when you partake in cold-water swimming on a regular basis, there is a significant reduction in this stress response, which research indicates can be transferred to the stress responses experienced in other areas of life. This is known as cross-adaptation: as the body becomes better at dealing with stress in one area – in this case, when immersed in cold water -, it also becomes better at dealing with stress in other areas.

Stress can occur frequently in our everyday lives. Changing jobs, moving house, moving to a new country etc. can all trigger stress. Cold-water swimming can be a natural method to help reduce and deal with this stress.  

Could it combat depression?

Taking this theory of cross-adaptation further, a case study published in the British Medical Journal Case Reports suggests that cold-water swimming could help people suffering from depression.

There is an increasing amount of evidence linking stress to depression and anxiety. Specifically, there is a noted connection between depression and the inflammation caused by a stress response, as Professor Ed Bullmore states, ‘depression and inflammation go hand in hand’. By helping to reducing stress responses and the inflammation they generate, cold-water swimming could be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.

Fancy giving it a go?

If not done carefully and correctly, cold-water swimming can be dangerous. Make sure you read these useful tips before taking the plunge.