The Benefits Of Cold Water Swimming
Garrett Durham December 11th, 2020 Posted In: Articles
The Benefits Of Cold Water Swimming
Our bodies can have a strong visceral reaction to the initial shock of taking a cold plunge that causes us to stay away once the temperature drops past a certain point. Your skin tightens, your heart rate increases, and a pit forms in your stomach. It becomes harder to breathe as your body works to compensate for a drastic change in body temperature. Everything is telling you to turn around, put dry clothes on, and retreat into the warmth waiting for you inside.
But, what if there were health benefits that made taking a chilly plunge worth a few minutes of discomfort? There are!
Researchers have studied the effects and benefits of cold water swimming and found plenty of physical and psychological benefits of braving the cold. I didn’t believe it until trying it for myself a few years ago and haven’t looked back since.
Cold Water Swimming Benefits
In 2017 I signed up for my first Iron Man that would take place at the end of April, just as the weather begins to warm up. In Georgia, the weather is nice this time of year and would be perfect for a long bike and run, though the swim in cold water worried me – the projected water temperature for our open water swim was a crisp 57°, much colder than any other water I had been in before. The idea of swimming in water this cold almost kept me away from the race entirely, but this race allowed wetsuits for the swim and I decided a cold water swim was a small hurdle in achieving my goal of competing in an Iron Man.
As soon as I signed up I knew there was a lot of work ahead, both in increasing my endurance and getting acclimated to swimming in cold water. When I set out on my training journey, I tried to learn everything I could about what could go wrong with swimming in cold water. I was afraid my body would go into shock or my muscles would cramp and I would sink to the bottom of the lake. Researching what could go wrong led me down the unexpected path of cold water swimming benefits, of which there are many.
At first, I thought it sounded like something only a group of high-school or college students would do to prove how tough they were but quickly realized there is more to cold water swimming than a test of machoism. I was surprised by the amount of research that’s been done, how many people around the world choose to jump into ice-cold water, and the benefits of taking the plunge. A quick Google search reveals “Polar Bear” swims that are put on all over the place where large groups of people go for a cold water swim, then celebrate the accomplishment together.
Physical Benefits – calorie burning, circulation increasing
Swimming is a great full-body exercise that is known to burn a ton of calories. Countless people try swimming because of the low impact on joints and the anaerobic workout from working while holding your breath. Swimming in cold water ups the ante by lowering your body temperature and forcing your body to work internally to keep your body temperature at an acceptable level.
An internal body temperature that’s either too low or too high isn’t good, so the body has some great mechanisms that help regulate and keep our body temp within the range it needs to be in. Two of the main ways are by using the circulatory system to redirect blood flow to the areas that need it the most and by generating heat through movement.
Our circulatory system constricts and dilates our blood vessels to send more blood to the right place at the right time. When it’s hot our bodies send more blood to the skin, allowing heat to escape. When it’s cold our bodies send more blood to our organs to help keep us warm. Getting into cold water makes the blood vessels around the organs dilate and the vessels close to the skin constrict, focusing all of its energy on keeping the most important parts warm. At the same time, we begin shivering to try to create warmth through motion.
Psychological Benefits – a natural high and reduced stress
In a world that never slows down, we’re all looking for ways to reduce stress. Turns out a benefit of cold water swimming is easing some of your stress. When you are in cold water your fight-or-flight response activates and releases adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. When you stay in cold water (fight) instead of getting out (flight) you are teaching your body how to use the rush of adrenaline and cortisol in a way that makes you better.
You can use this newly learned response to a rush of adrenaline as a way to manage other stress-inducing areas of your life. Endorphins release into the bloodstream, creating a feeling of joy that some people call a natural high. This feeling often lasts for several hours after the initial release of endorphins.
The Bottom Line
The initial plunge into cold water might send shivers up your spine, but the physical and psychological benefits far outweigh the short term discomfort you might experience. A way to help with the discomfort is to wear a wetsuit that will form a layer of insulation around your body by trapping water between your skin and the wetsuit.
I have a salt water pool in-ground pool. Salt water pools use electricity to create the chlorine radical for pool sanitation. If the electric chlorine generator is not keeping up, not maintaining free chlorine levels, then we add sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) to raise the free chlorine level. In effect, all salt water pools are chlorine pools. They just use electricity to make chlorine from the salt. Salt is NaCl. It dissolves into sodium ions (Na+) and chlorine ions (Cl-) in water.
I am getting a 3/2 mm neoprene wet-suit for extending the time I can use the pool as it gets colder. Need advice about that.
Thanks for the information, John! Here are some great options as far as 3/2mm fullsuits go that have enough flexibility for swimming https://www.wetsuitwearhouse.com/wetsuits/category/mens-fullsuits-32.html?Per_Page=24&Sort_By=bestsellers&price=167-275&zillabrand=Vissla&zillabrand=Quiksilver&zillabrand=XCEL&zillabrand=Volcom&zillabrand=Rip%20Curl&zillabrand=O%27Neill
I would like to buy wet suit shorts for swiming in a pool for training. Please advise
Hi Mariza! You can browse all of our available wetsuit shorts here. They are a great option for a little extra coverage and warmth. Cheers!
I am interested in the 3/2mm Women’s Sisstrevolution 7 Seas back zip full suit in purple. Unfortunately I can’t decide on a size and need help please! I’m 5’7″, weigh 141lbs, chest is 39″ and waist is 32″.
Thank you so much for your assistance!
Hi Deb! Thank you for reaching out. In that particular suit, I would recommend going with a size 14. Your chest and waist measurements are the most important to fit well, and from our feedback, the length of these wetsuits runs a little short so shouldn’t be too much of an issue! Hope this helps!
Want to work out in unheated, chlorinated AZ pool with winter water temps around 60.
Obviously selecting wetsuit is more complicated than I thought. What would you suggest?
Hey Jack! Choosing a wetsuit doesn’t have to be too complicated. I recommend browsing our selection of men’s fullsuits here, and search by temperature in the lefthand filter bar. There are lots of options, so don’t forget to get updated height, chest, and weight measurements to reference against the product-specific size charts on each wetsuit. If you need additional assistance in finding your perfect wetsuit, you can also reach out to our awesome customer service team either via email (email@example.com) or call 866-906-7848. Cheers!
I too live in AZ and want to swim all winter in an unheated, chlorinated pool. Did you decide on your suit and are their any pitfalls or good directives you wouldn’t mind sharing with me?
My concerns are restricted movement when swimming AND will I rinse off suit to manufacture’s satisfaction.
I’m also thinking that maybe I wouldn’t need a full suit, but a shorty.
Let me know anything you have found out, and if you already bought and tried it out, how did it go?
Am trying to buy a wetsuit. But I need some advice. So…. I go to “call us” and there’s no phone number. Just something that wants me to choose an “app” to call from. I don’t own a smart phone. Just an old flip phone. But… I still want to buy a wetsuit.
Do you have a telephone number?
Hey Walter! You can reach our awesome customer service team at (866)-906-7848 10 AM-4 PM EST. Cheers!
What do you recommend then for added warmth for winter outdoor freshwater, chlorinated pool swimming in Southern California if not a wetsuit? I get chilled after being in the water a while. Swim about 40 minutes and want to do water aerobics and exercises and get cold. Thank you.
What are the water temps like in the pool? This will help me figure out what type of wetsuit to recommend to you. Thanks!
In my pool, so far, the temp has been 56-62. I, too, am interested in this question as I have an underwater treadmill on which I love running.
I’d recommend a 3/2mm flatlock fullsuit especially if you’ll be wearing the wetsuit to run underwater. I need to know your chest, height and weight measurements to help you figure out a size, but in the meantime, I’d recommend checking out our selection of women’s 3/2mm fullsuits (and hit the flatlock seam type filter): https://www.wetsuitwearhouse.com/wetsuits/category/womens-wetsuits-32mm.html
Does this have any special coating to deal with chlorinated water and last longer?
Hi Srini! Wetsuits don’t have a coating to protect them from chlorinated water, and swimming in pools will ultimately reduce the lifespan of a wetsuit. If you are planning on wearing a wetsuit in chlorinated pools to stay warm, be sure to rinse the suit thoroughly with freshwater inside and out at the end of each session so that it can last you as long as possible!