8 February, 2024
While plunging into icy cold water can seem daunting, doing so has been proven to have a range of mental and physical health benefits.
While plunging into icy cold water can seem daunting, doing so has been proven to have a range of mental and physical health benefits. From reducing inflammation to boosting dopamine levels, submerging yourself in icy water can have surprisingly positive effects. This has caused cold water swimming to gain popularity, and now you can find large groups of people frequently getting together to partake in the activity.
In this article, we explore some of the benefits cold water swimming can have on your mental health.
When you immerse yourself in cold water, your body will naturally feel a state of shock. While this can initially feel overwhelming and uncomfortable, it can actually be a positive thing. This is because your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline when you hit the water, and over time, your body will adapt to the shock and the severity of your initial stress reaction will gradually be reduced.
This can result in a decreased response to other stressful situations as your body becomes more resilient to stress. The way that it works is by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our rest and digestive functions, counterbalancing the natural fight-or-flight response.
Cold water swimming has been found to increase the release of several mood-boosting hormones, including dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine in particular plays a crucial role in determining our mood, and spikes can even feel like a natural euphoric high.
Dopamine release is triggered during the initial cold shock phase, creating a rush of positive emotions which can make the chilly feeling much more tolerable. The increased dopamine levels will last long after you leave the water too, providing a natural way to combat symptoms of depression and anxiety.
What’s more, dopamine can also help to improve focus and concentration. The cold water and dopamine combined make for an invigorating mental refresh, allowing you to come back with a renewed focus.
Our bodies naturally want to feel connected to nature, which is why so many of us find ourselves feeling happier on the coast, in the mountains or other beautiful places. However, in today’s fast-paced world, it can be tricky to find time to get out into nature as much as we should. This leaves many of us growing tired of the same grey concrete surroundings and looking for something more.
Cold water swimming offers the perfect opportunity to reconnect with nature and reap the mental health rewards that come with it. Not only will you get to experience the beauty of natural bodies of water, but you’ll find that the immersion in icy water will awaken your senses and ground you in the moment – so that you can truly appreciate the breathtaking scenery.
While it may not sound very appealing at first, cold water swimming is definitely worth a go if you’re looking to try something new this year. With all of the benefits to be had, both physically and mentally, braving the cold water could lead to a new lease on life.
I am an avid cold water swimmer. Leading a weekly group session during the colder months, I want to encourage others to try cold water swimming in order to reap all of the physical and mental health benefits. In my free time, I enjoy training my dog Milo for his next agility event.
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