Tempted to take the plunge? Triathlon & swimming coach Melanie Berry, co-founder of Her Spirit, explains all
What is cold water swimming?
Cold water swimming (which could be defined as UK water temperatures for most of the year, not just winter) is an activity that’s gaining popularity and momentum throughout the UK. Your normal body temperature is 37°C, but can vary very slightly depending on lots of different things including the temperature of your environment, the time of day and how active you are.
Is cold water swimming safe?
Swimming in cold water carries risk. It’s important to follow safety guidelines for cold water swimming and to make sure you get expert medical advice before if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, asthma, or you’re pregnant.
Why do people choose to swim in cold water?
Over recent years, more and more people have embraced the open water and continued to swim outdoors as the weather dropped during the colder months. It’s easy to count the physical benefits of swimming. Like all physical exercise – it makes us happy!
Exercise helps release endorphins, the wonderful happy hormones in your brain that leave you feeling great.
From a social point of view, swimming with others together in a group and being outdoors is self-care that many have enjoyed for many years. When you increase your heart rate by exercising, your brain recognises it as stress. Your body then responds by releasing a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may support and maintain your memory neurons.
While many people swear by the benefits of cold water swimming, scientific research is still ongoing. In September 2018, the British Medical Journal published a case report which described one patient's experience with cold water swimming as a treatment for depression.
Top tips for cold water swimming
If you fancy braving it and taking a cool dip, these pre and post swim tips will help you have a safe and enjoyable swim. Never swim alone in open water and always take a buoyancy aid with you. It’s important to build up the amount of time you spend in the water and to not push yourself too much as you’re starting out on your cold water swimming journey.
Always plan where you are going to swim
It’s important to find a safe, lifeguarded area to cold water swim in. There are many open water venues open all year round across the country.
Pack warm clothes
Make sure to pack warm clothes that are easy to put on after your swim. Pack the clothes in the order that you will put them on, so you don’t need to think too much afterwards. Take a warm drink in a flask to help you warm up too.
Take your time entering the water
It will take your body time to get used to the cold temperature. Build up exposure in cold water every week. It usually takes up to five dips to acclimatise in cold water, but remember everyone is different. Do what works and feels right for you. Don’t jump or dive straight into the water as this can be dangerous. Always get into the water slowly.
Control your breathing
Cold water can make you hyperventilate, meaning you may start to take deep quick gasps. It’s important to control your breathing and give yourself time to get this back to a normal level.
Wear a wetsuit
There are a lot of different wetsuits available and it’s important to find one that suits your shape and size. An ill-fitting wetsuit will make the experience harder and less enjoyable. A winter wetsuit will be made of a thicker material and will give you extra protection, keeping you warmer for longer. As we lose a lot of our heat from our head, covering your head with a swimming cap can also help.
Try not to miss a week
When acclimatising to cold water, it can make it more difficult to carry through the colder months if you miss a week.
Keep yourself safe even after you’re out of the water
Extended periods in cold water will cause your body to continue cooling when you are out of the water. This is called an ‘after drop’ and there are a few things that you can do to stop this and start rewarming your body slowly.
1. Find shelter
When you get out of the water, try to avoid standing around in exposed and windy areas and find some shelter to change. Put on a woolly hat, thick socks and gloves and use hand sanitiser to make sure your hands are clean before you eat or drink anything. Then take sips of your warm drink.
2. Give yourself time to warm up
It’s important not to go for a hot shower straight away (this will make the ‘after drop’ worse) and don’t drive home immediately after your swim. Give yourself time to warm up properly, because the cold water can make you disorientated.
Her Spirit partners with the Royal Life Saving Society and Professor Greg Whyte, as safety is key.
Who are Her Spirit?
Her Spirit are on a mission to inspire women to become fitter, stronger and healthier. They believe that your mind, body and fuel are intrinsically linked and taking small achievable steps will lead to big changes. Her Spirit support women of all shapes and sizes to achieve goals that they never thought were possible.