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The Benefits Of Cold Water Swimming

   January 4th, 2024   Posted In: Articles  


The Benefits of Cold-Water Swimming

Our bodies can have a strong reaction to the initial shock of taking a cold plunge. That reaction causes most of us to stay away from frigid waters 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?

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 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.

cold water swimming benefitsAs 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.

Potential Physical Benefits 

  • Heart Health – Cold water swimming is said to aid in the improvement of heart health. The cold makes your heart work overtime to keep you warm, which is like a form of strength training.
  • Weight loss – Cold water swimming helps burn extra calories, which can aid in weight loss.
  • Boosted immune system – Studies have shown that repeated cold-water immersions, over an extended period of time, can help activate the immune system.
  • Reduced pain and inflammation – This can help with the recovery from injuries or exercise.
  • Improved general wellbeing – Studies have shown that regular winter swimming can improve general wellbeing. It can help drastically reduce symptoms of health conditions and give an energy boost. 

Psychological Benefits –

A natural high and reduced stress

In a world that never slows down, we’re all looking for ways to reduce stress. Cold-water swimming can have a positive impact on your mental health, particularly for those who struggle with anxiety and depression. Cold-water exposure helps release “feel good” chemicals that can boost your mood. This natural high has been said to last for several hours. 

Cold-water plunges/exposure also puts you in the present moment, where you’re only focused on the here and now. Some would say it’s a form of meditation.  

Know the Risks

Of course, there’s a massive amount of benefits when it comes to cold-water swimming. But you should also be aware of the risks before you decide to take the plunge. (Pun intended) 

Hypothermia – Hypothermia is when your body core temperature drops below the norm. And it causes excessive shivering, slowed breathing, mumbled speech, confusion, drowsiness, and a weak pulse. It can be very dangerous. Cold-water incapacitation can lead to drowning.  

Drowning– Cold water shock and hyperventilation can lead to drowning. If you gasp for air while a wave is rolling over you, or while you’re bobbing in and out of the water… you could inhale water, which could lead to serious issues with your lungs or even drowning. 

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 and reduce risk is to wear a wetsuit that will form a layer of insulation around your body by trapping water between your skin and the wetsuit.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in 2020 and has since been reviewed and updated.

Garrett grew up on the Chain of Lakes in Central Florida, spending afternoons and summer days wakeboarding, jet skiing and enjoying time in the sun and on the water with friends and family. Now, he likes to spend time traveling, learning new cultures by experiencing them as a local, and of course, getting pulled behind a boat whenever possible.

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  • John says:

    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.

  • Mariza says:

    I would like to buy wet suit shorts for swiming in a pool for training. Please advise

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      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!

  • Deb Hill says:

    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!

    Deb Hill

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      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!

  • Jack Bulkley says:

    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?

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      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 (service@wetsuitwearhouse.com) or call 866-906-7848. Cheers!

    • Nadine Lanier says:

      Hi Jack,
      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?

  • Walter Klenhard says:

    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?

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      Hey Walter! You can reach our awesome customer service team at (866)-906-7848 10 AM-4 PM EST. Cheers!

  • Sandy says:

    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.

    • Lauren Belt says:

      Hi Sandy,

      What are the water temps like in the pool? This will help me figure out what type of wetsuit to recommend to you. Thanks!

      • Debbie says:

        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.
        Thank you!

        • Lauren Belt says:

          Hi Debbie,

          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

          • Srini says:

            Does this have any special coating to deal with chlorinated water and last longer?

          • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

            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!

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