Recently I saw a funny that said the rising ocean temperatures were not due to global warming but to all the menopausal women who have taken up cold water swimming.
As someone who has been struggling with the effects of long Covid, I’ve tried a variety of therapies to help manage my symptoms. That is how I came upon and started to include Cold Water Therapy. For over six months, I’ve been taking daily cold showers to help boost my immune system and reduce inflammation.
Recently, I met up with an old friend, Kathryn, who loves cold water swimming, and she took me to Hampstead Heath for a dip. The water was a chilly 9-degree temperature, and outside not much better at 14 degrees.
At Hampstead Heath, there are 3 pools – open all year round. A woman’s only, men’s only and a mixed. And although it is outside, trees and shrubs keep the whole area private. So we undressed outdoors, and hand on heart, it was my first time swimming with a woollen hat. To enter the pool – there is a ladder off a platform – one for entering and one for exiting. And then a swimming lap out in the middle. There was almost a festive attitude in the air. Like we were all part of a secret clan. I would love to show you what it looked like, but photos/cameras are prohibited. So, this had the effect of being completely old school and safe.
But I can show you this photo of my face after the swim.
It takes courage to go in because even though I undertake daily cold showers, every fibre of my being is telling you – this is crazy behaviour. But the laughs of the women around me delighting in their swim and the coaching and support from Kathryn, enabled me to get into the water and swim around.
What does the research say?
Being the research nerd I am, I have learned more about the benefits of cold-water swimming; I discovered that it’s not just a fun and adventurous activity. Still, it can also have various physical and mental health benefits.
Research has shown that exposure to cold water can help to boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve circulation. For example, one study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses found that cold water exposure can activate the body’s natural healing processes and increase blood flow to the organs and tissues, which can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that cold water immersion can help to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness after exercise.
However, it’s important to note that limited research is specifically on women and cold-water therapy. (Surprise! Surprise!) While the benefits of cold-water therapy may be similar for both men and women, more research is needed to fully understand how this therapy may impact women’s health.
How do you get started if you want to try cold water swimming?
Here is how I built up to it:
- Take your phone into the shower/bathroom with you and set the alarm for 30 seconds.
- At the end of your shower, instead of turning the shower off – turn it to cold.
- Take a few seconds for the temperature to change to start practising your box breathing.
- The good feeling comes after about 20 seconds, so keep with the box breathing and start to rotate your body under the cold.
- Do 30 seconds for 1 week before, increasing it to 5 – 10 seconds.
The key to this practice is that it is something that you do every single day. For example, I debate whether I should skip the cold part of my shower every day. I have a couple of phrases that I repeat to myself to remind myself that I am strong. The complete routine makes it easier – setting the alarm, the box breathing, and the affirmative mantras.
Safety warning: Cold-water swim with a friend!
Once you feel comfortable with cold water, you can experiment with cold water swimming in a safe and controlled environment.
It’s important to remember that cold water can be dangerous, especially for those unfamiliar with it. So, take appropriate safety precautions, such as wearing a wetsuit or other protective gear and never swimming alone.
When you’re ready to take the plunge, start by entering the water slowly and gradually, and take deep breaths to help manage the shock of the cold water. Focus on your breathing, stay relaxed, and keep your movements slow and controlled.
Being with Kathryn, a seasoned cold-water swimmer was a huge help to me, even though I had been practicing with my cold showers!
As you build up your tolerance for cold water swimming, you may find that it becomes a regular part of your self-care routine. And who knows, you might even discover a new passion for this invigorating and refreshing activity. And join the multitude of women who are helping warm up the ocean!
Will you give it a go?
Cold-water swimming can be fun and rewarding with many physical and mental health benefits.
So, why not take the plunge and see what cold water therapy and cold-water swimming can do for you?
- Tipton M, Golden F. Cold water immersion: kill or cure? Experimental physiology. 2017;102(11):1335-1355.
- Roberts LA, Nosaka K, Coombes JS, Peake JM. Cold water immersion enhances recovery of submaximal muscle function after resistance exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014;28(9):2628-2635.
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