Taking the Plunge: My Cold Water Swimming Experience

Annabel Boyne

Swimming in a lake probably wouldn’t be like most people’s idea of ​​fun – let alone in the winter when temperatures are in the single digits. However, more and more, cold water swimming is becoming a popular pastime. The participants all seem delighted with their experiences and the rejuvenating impacts. Annabel Boyne wanted to test the waters and see if cold water swimming lived up to the hype. Can numb toes and chills for hours afterwards really be worth it?

Swimming in cold water or outdoors has many scientifically proven health benefits. A no-brainer would be that it’s a great exercise. Compared to a heated swimming pool, the heart has to pump faster and therefore more calories are burned. Natural outdoor water conditions mean your body may have to work harder than in a lane and chlorinated pool.

Regular exposure to cold water can also boost the immune system

It has also been proven to improve sleep. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, swimming in cold water helps the body rest and repair.

You may have heard of athletes taking ice baths after strenuous exercise. Swimming in cold water produces the same effects. It narrows the arteries, reduces potential inflammation and soothes sore muscles.

Regular exposure to cold water can also boost the immune system. As the body is forced to react to changing conditions, more white blood cells are produced. This too increases your levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant which can be reduced by poor diet, environmental toxins and stress.

In addition to the physical impacts, swimming in cold water can be incredibly beneficial for improving mental health. When the body is immersed in cold water, we are getting closer to our barriers of pain. Endorphins, a chemical produced to make us feel good during activity, are then released to help us cope. The result is a feeling of natural euphoria, mental clarity, reduced stress and improved concentration.

With so many potential benefits, why wouldn’t you want to dip your toe in a cold water swim?

After some research I decided to go to Whole Health’s Mindfulness Dip in Colwick Country Park. Although a bit apprehensive, I felt very safe. The crew there were extremely competent and there was a lifeguard on hand. Before entering the water, Coach Cat answered all my questions and gave me a safety overview. As the water was 6°C, I was told that 6 minutes was the recommended swimming time for a beginner.

In the beginning, I gradually entered until the height of the hips then I had to jump forward to submerge my shoulders and start swimming. It was terribly cold and my fingers and toes were getting more and more numb. I also found that my breathing became irregular, so I had to focus on maintaining my composure.

I wasn’t impressed to learn that I wouldn’t be able to properly warm up until the next day

Most people seemed to suggest that getting into the water would be the most unpleasant part of my experience. However, I found the immediate sequelae worse.

Even when I was dry with many warm layers, I was shaking non-stop and didn’t regain feeling in my toes for at least an hour. I wasn’t impressed to learn that I wouldn’t be able to warm up properly until the next day!

I certainly felt a sense of accomplishment for completing my first cold water swim and the overall experience was very rewarding. However, I’m in no rush to make it my new hobby. I found it was probably too complicated and too expensive to fit into my schedule and budget. Colwick Country Park is relatively inaccessible by public transport. Had to take a Bolt on my trip there as I was running out of time. On the way back, I had to walk an hour to town where I then took a bus back to campus. It was both time consuming and expensive, on top of the £10 I paid to do just 6 minutes of swimming.

A more student-friendly alternative might instead be the David Ross Sports Village Sports Injury Clinic Plunge Pool. For just £2.50 you can have a similar experience and enjoy lots of benefits. In fact, some people might prefer not to have to swim among other animals and whatever else you might find in Colwick Lake.

If you fancy swimming in cold water, I highly recommend it. To see noticeable benefits, you’ll likely need to commit to regular swimming. Still, a one-time experience can still be fun, and I certainly don’t rule it out as a potential pastime later on.

Annabel Boyne


Image courtesy of Todd Quackenbush Going through Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes have been made to this image.

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