Why cold water swims and showers are worth the icy plunge
Cold water immersion has garnered quite the following, with turning the temperature dial down in the shower endorsed by many because of a supposed myriad of health benefits. A nation hellbent on getting familiar with the shiver, we’re embracing the bite of our lakes and ponds more than ever before, with research from Sport England revealing that the number of people who regularly taking part in open water swimming rose by more than 80% between 2016 and 2018.
Not just another fad, we dive into the science behind cold water immersion, and break down why the good it does definitely outweighs those initial goosebumps.
1. WHY YOU SHOULD EMBRACE THE CHILL
COLD WATER HIGH
Being submerged in cold water brings us close to the pain barrier, and so our bodies release feel-good hormones like dopamine and endorphins, to help us cope. This adrenaline rush also stimulates a rush of the chemical norepinephrine, which helps our brain and body work at optimum efficiency, and can positively impact energy and focus hours after taking the frosty plunge.
LONG-TERM MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS
If you want to build up your long-term resilience to stress, then getting comfortable with the cold is a great place to start. Through continually building up your tolerance of low temperatures, and fighting the body’s natural cortisol-induced reaction to flee the frost, you’ll be better armed against the effects of chronic stress day-to-day life. Also cited in a 2018 case report by the British Medical Journal as a possible effective treatment for depression, cold water swimming is beginning to garner respect amongst mental health professionals.
Feeling cold will trigger your heart to pump faster, so that blood can better circulate and therefore help retain body temperature, meaning you’ll experience a greater supply of oxygen to the brain and other organs. Forcing the body to work harder, you’ll also burn far more calories than if you were swimming in hotter conditions.
SCARE OFF SNIFFLES
Despite what we’ve always been told, it turns out that hanging out in frosty water actually leads to fewer coughs and colds – provided you get warm quickly afterwards, and have had your flu jab if required. This is partly due to a suspected increase in white blood cell production when immersed in cold water, but the exposure to more germs could also play a role in boosting immunity.
STIMULATE THE SPERM
Turns out that testosterone isn’t a fan of being too toasty. Put simply, the simple act of having a cold shower will lower the scrotal temperature – therefore increasing the production of testosterone, and in turn, boosting a man’s libido.
2. WHERE TO COLD WATER SWIM IN LONDON
At any of the Hampstead Heath ponds, you can expect freezing water, muddy banks, quite a few ducks, and natural scenery. While the Mixed Pond is only open to all in summer, the Ladies’ and Men’s Ponds are the UK’s only lifeguarded open water swimming facilities open to the public every day of the year.
When can I swim? Under the current timetable (changes 22 March) swimmers are welcome everyday, from 7:00 until 14:15.
What are the facilities like? Cold showers are available at both, with warm showers also available at the Ladies’ Pond. There are no lockers or supervised areas, and toilets are close by but not directly on-site.
If you’re keen to add some sophistication to your cold swim, then head to Brockwell Lido – a true jewel you’ll find nestled in South London’s bustling Brixton. The 50-metre pool is still unheated – so the chill is bound to bite – but the stylish Grade II listed art deco building that surrounds is sure to add a little glamour to your icy excursion.
When can I swim? Sessions vary from 6:30 to 20:00 depending on the time of year, but check out their interactive timetable for up-to-date information.
What are the facilities like? There’s great changing facilities, and a lovey poolside cafe, where you can grab a post-swim bite to eat.
Blissfully scenic and free as a bird, Fensham Great Pond is a 50-metre shallow lake where you’re sure to feel sand underfoot. With a sandy beach, buoyed areas for swimming, and beautiful wraparound views of the Surrey hills and open heathland, it’s a beautiful day-trip. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself floating alongside the many wildfowl, mallards and greylag geese that call it home.
When can I swim? Technically whenever you want, but it’s worth doing some research on the safest times to wild swim.
What are the facilities like? None at all!
For advice on staying safe when attempting cold water swims, read these six tips for cold-water swimming from The Outdoor Swimming Society.