The Incredible Physical and Mental Benefits of Winter Swimming
Unless you live in Europe or have visited during the freezing cold winters, you probably don’t know about all the benefits that cold water swimming can offer you! Don’t worry–we’ve done the research for you. Here are some of the surprising and incredible reasons that winter swimming is great for you!
1. Swimming in cold water can boost your immune system, keeping you healthy all season long.
Cold water forces your body to react to changing conditions, which in turn boosts your white blood cell count. White blood cells fight infections and diseases in the bloodstream by destroying foreign (and potentially harmful) materials. When the flu runs rampant in the winter, having a reliable defense against sickness is more important than ever.
Additionally, repeated exposure to cold water will increase the levels of antioxidants in your body; particularly the antioxidant called glutathione. Glutathione helps combat damaging molecules within your body’s cells, which provides you with even MORE protection! Teach your body to strengthen and activate its natural defenses–say hello to chattering teeth and goodbye to that runny nose!
2. Ice swimming gives you a natural high, making it a helpful and healthy alternative to smoking or drinking.
When you swim in cold water, your endorphins are activated. If you don’t know, endorphins are the chemicals released by the nervous system to help you combat stress and pain. Basically, endorphins help us feel good! They’re naturally released when you experience stress or become injured, and since the cold water shock of ice swimming pushes you close to your pain barrier, your nervous system releases those endorphins and provides you with a natural high.
Drinking and smoking also release endorphins, but when you start relying on alcohol or nicotine for that endorphin release, you actually harm your body in the long run. Ice swimming is a much healthier way to get the high that you crave, especially since it doubles as exercise, which happens to be another endorphin-releaser! We’re living in hard times, so give ice swimming a try to see if it can help you feel better.
3. Winter swimming improves your blood circulation, which means that you can easily adapt to cold temperatures over time.
When you jump into cold water, you experience an extreme change in temperature, which then signals your heart to pump more blood to your organs. Ultimately, ice swimming cleanses our capillaries, arteries, and veins, which flushes toxins from our system, giving us beautiful, glowing skin and bringing blood to the surface in order to warm our arms, legs, fingers, and toes.
If you repeatedly expose yourself to these cold temperatures, your body adapts over time, allowing you to stay in the water longer the more you put ice swimming into practice. This can be especially helpful for older adults, who find themselves to be more vulnerable to illnesses during cold, harsh winters: a higher resistance to cold temperatures will keep them safer and healthier than they would be otherwise.
Normal blood circulation isn’t the only type of circulation that cold water swimming improves, however. As it turns out, your lymphatic circulation also experiences a boost, which helps maintain the fluid levels in your body, transport and remove waste, and protects your body against foreign invaders. (Hello, #1 on our list.)
4. Swimming in cold water reduces stress, which is especially helpful for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the winter.
We already explained the endorphin-release process to you in #2 on our list, but that release of endorphins does more than give you a natural high: winter swimming can also help fight depression, especially during a season where so many people experience SAD.
Cold water swimming not only triggers the release of endorphins from the nervous system; it also releases dopamine, which is your brain’s “happy” hormone. Dopamine is released any time you’re doing something that you enjoy. With the rising popularity of ice swimming all over the world, it’s only natural to think that you might try it, fall in love with it, and get a dopamine release from the activity.
But what about people who are interested in ice swimming for pure stress relief? Similar to running, dancing, or a HIIT exercise, cold water swimming puts stress on the body but seems to relieve the stresses of the mind.
There’s also a mindfulness practice when it comes to winter swimming, and mindfulness is one of the most powerful combatants to stress. Swimmers are very aware of their body’s movements in the water, especially when the cold temperatures sting their skin and force them to feel more present in the moment they’re experiencing. Ice swimming is a perfect, if unconventional, opportunity to meditate, so take the opportunity to slow down and take lots of deep, mindful breaths.
5. Ice swimming is a community sport, which means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make new friends.
It’s true that ice swimming is most popular in Europe, but there are winter swimming clubs all over the world that gather together once or twice a week to experience all the benefits that cold water swimming can give you. If you want to try this new and exciting activity for yourself, look up swimming clubs near you and ask about the joining process. Just remember that ice swimming is a sport you’ll need to acclimate to, so don’t be surprised if everyone else is a little ahead of you. They’ll still be happy to have you, and some of the best friendships are formed when you’re all doing something new and challenging together!
We could talk about the benefits of ice swimming all day long, but do you know the best way to learn all about those benefits? Give cold water swimming a try for yourself! Just remember to be safe and stay healthy this winter season, and take all the precautions necessary so that you can grow to become a practically professional winter swimmer. We can’t wait to see all the challenges you overcome!