5 Physical & Mental Health Benefits Of Cold Water Swimming

December 15, 2022 4 min read

couple stood in cold water lake wearing beanie hats

Wondering what’s behind the cold water swimming craze? Many wild swimmers talk about the ‘high’ that they get from braving a cold dip, and this is definitely not to be sniffed at - cold water swimming has been shown to have numerous benefits on both mental and physical health. These are just a few of the main benefits of cold water swimming that make it worth the hype:

Boosting Your Immune System

Did you know that taking a cold dip could actually help you scare off all those winter bugs? In fact, one of the main health benefits of cold water swimming is its role in boosting the immune system. It’s been suggested that the stress reaction caused by cold water immersion triggers an increase in white blood cell production. Over time, this helps to build up your body’s immunity against illnesses. 

man swimming in the sea

Reducing Inflammation

Athletes all over the world take ice baths to help their post-performance recovery as the cold temperature helps to reduce inflammation. The same science applies to swimming in cold water. Your body reacts to the cold by directing blood away from your extremities to protect the organs in your core. The reduced blood flow to your limbs reduces inflammation, helping muscles recover more quickly. It’s uncertain whether the benefits of cold water swimming could help reduce the pain associated with certain chronic conditions, however this is an ongoing topic of research. 

Improving Cardiovascular Health 

When you swim in cold water, your body has to work harder to maintain its core temperature. This means that your heart rate increases, whilst your blood vessels constrict, helping to improve blood flow throughout your body. As a result of this, your heart gets a great workout, and the increased blood flow also helps to ‘flush out’ your blood vessels, removing impurities. This makes it a great full body workout.

Releasing Happy Hormones

The benefits of cold water swimming aren’t just physical, there are also many mental health benefits that are associated with this popular activity. One of the main mental health benefits of cold water swimming is its role in increasing the production of endorphins - these provide a natural high and make us feel good. This is why there are studies into how swimming in cold water may help to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. 

happy woman swimming in the sea

Reducing Stress & Anxiety

Nature is a natural stress-reliever, and one of the most obvious benefits of cold water swimming is that it provides an opportunity to escape from the chaos of everyday life and reconnect with nature. This can help to reduce stress levels whilst enhancing mindfulness. In addition to this, it’s been suggested that repeated exposure to cold water can help to improve both your physical and mental resilience by improving your body’s response to the stress hormone cortisol.

Essential Tips For Staying Safe

We’ve definitely established that there are numerous benefits of cold water swimming. In order to make the most of these benefits and enjoy this fun activity safely, it’s important to consider the following tips:

  • Never Swim Alone: Always swim with a buddy so that they can call for help in case of an emergency, or even better, join a cold water swimming group. Tell someone on shore where you’re going and when you plan to be back so that they can raise the alarm if you’re delayed. 
  • Be Prepared: Make sure to read up on the key safety points and risks of this activity (The Outdoor Swimming Society have loads of great info on this), and try your first few sessions with a group. Always check the weather and tide times before you head out, and make sure you’ve chosen a safe location where you can get in and out of the water easily, and are visible to people on land. 
  • Acclimatise Slowly: Ease your way into the water gradually in order to prevent cold water shock, and don’t jump or dive. Know your limits once you’re in the water, and if you feel like you’re starting to get fatigued or feel unwell, then get out of the water as soon as you’re able to. 
  • Get The Right Gear: Awetsuit (different thicknesses depending on the time of year), lightweightneoprene boots and gloves are all important for helping you stay warm in the water. A swimming cap will help with warmth whilst making you more visible in the water. Atow float is also an essential piece of safety equipment. 
  • Warm Up Properly: It’s important to get yourself warm once you’re out of the water by bringing plenty of warm clothes and a hot drink. Avoid jumping in a hot shower straight away as hot water can cool your core which can be dangerous. Bring a warm changing robe likeFourth Element’s super soft, fleece lined Tidal Robe, alongside a flask of your favourite hot drink! 
  • man wearing tidal robe with the hood up on a white background
    Lizzie Chapman
    Lizzie Chapman

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