Updated: Oct 13, 2018
It's a buzz, and people are starting to catch on. So why are winter swimmers so excited that the water temperature's dropping?
Winter swimming is good for you
Summer 2018 in the UK was a scorcher. But swimming through the summer months, I really craved colder water. Summer swimming is sociable, you get the happy hormones from exercise amplified by being outdoors, and it feels good. But water below about 14 degrees gives you a buzz and a post-swimming high quite unlike anything else.
Cold water and stress
Ever felt guilty that minor things get you down when others have it worse? Don’t. That’s your stress response, and it really can’t tell the difference.
Sometimes called the ‘fight or flight’ response, our bodies respond in exactly the same way to different types of stress. Get cut up at a roundabout or chased by a lion, our sympathetic nervous systems has the exact same reaction - we respond in the same way to real danger as to little irritations. And those minor stresses add up to more major mental health problems.
When you get into cold water, you put your body into real stress. But as time goes on, that feeling subsides. If you swim in cold water often, you reduce the stress even more. And that makes you better at dealing with the things in your life that get to you.
Cold water is also anti-inflammatory. Our inflammatory reflex responds to stress – that can be in life or from viruses. Drugs like ibuprofen that reduce inflammation are good for depression. And so is cold water.
Even die-hard cold water swimmers get butterflies before they get in the cold water.
That feeling that you’ve done something brave, that you’ve conquered a fear can make you feel super-human. And that adds to the post-swim high.
Swimming in a group is another feel-good factor. Sharing a crazy hobby, having fun, squealing, swearing and then shivering together afterwards is very bonding. It helps you come back again and again too – much more fun than any drugs regime*.
(*please consult your doctor before changing your drugs regime.)
Go swimming this winter
Fancy dipping in? Find a local group and go along. The Outdoor Swimming Society's Facebook group is a great place to start.