When you go into cold water your body goes under stress, if done regularly (at least once a week but up to 4 times a week is recommended), your body becomes used to being under stress. This inevitably leads to your body being able to cope with this reaction, therefore your everyday negative stress reactions diminish. Cold water is also good for the mind and ongoing research shows that it can slow the onset of dementia. For the body, the cold water gets the blood flowing around and can give your skin an afterglow and reduce the oils.
The rise of euphoria due to the increase of endorphins that you can get from being in cold water massively helps with low mood, anxiety and for me, if I have a headache or feel sick then the cold water is my medicine.
The afterdrop effect.. This is very important but unfortunately not spoke about enough. 15 minutes after getting out of cold water is when your body will feel the coldest. Due to your body going under stress and if exposed for too long then the negative stress symptoms can manifest, feeling sick, feeling like you are going to pass out and feeling extremely fatigued. This is normal and most cold water swimmers will have experienced this at least once. It is always best to be prepared if you are new to cold water swimming and having a flask of tea with sugar, a can of full sugar pop, chocolate or carbs will help. Also, going for a brisk walk or doing some star-jumps or burpees to get the blood flowing round your body again as it will be rushing to your core to keep you warm. If you are driving then you must pull over and the main thing is not to panic. This might sound scary but there are some actions that you can take to prevent the afterdrop, don’t stay in as long as experienced cold water swimmers do, don’t follow the guidelines of ‘stay in 1 minute per 1 degree of water temperature’.. this is not about pushing yourself, it’s about enjoying the experience, warm up properly afterwards and layer up.
Tips for cold water safety
- Don’t go alone if you are new to it.
- Start in a wetsuit if you can (also protect the extremities with neoprene socks, gloves and a cap if going under the water). Starting in a costume is fine but just be aware that you may not be able to go past your knees on the first time.
- Always wear some sort of protection on your feet, neoprene socks or aqua shoes. Flip flops/sliders will come off in the water and do not give you any stability.
- Don’t feel the need to go in the water fully, at first you may only feel able to go in up to your knees for 30 seconds, then up to your waist, then this might turn into a small swim.
- Listen to your body, if you are shivering then you have been in too long, if you are not enjoying it or feeling ill then you need to get out.
- Preparation is key, pack your bag with everything you need.. towel, wetsuit/costume, neoprene socks/aquashoes, neoprene gloves and a cap (if needed), warm coat, jumper, hat, thick socks and gloves.
- Be aware that most wild swimming spots might be popular and you may be getting changed in-front of other people, there are changing robes that you can purchase that range in price, from microfibre robes to full dry robes from different manufacturers.
- Check the weather before you go, if there is wind this can make a big difference to how you feel when you get out.
- Women can experience completely different sensations every time you go into cold water due to hormones, time of the month and emotional state. Is it beneficial to keep a log of what time of when you swim, temperature of water, how long you were in for, movement of water and how you felt before, during and after. This ill help you keep track of when best to avoid cold water or when best to go.
- Use safety equipment such as a fluorescent buoy that ties round your waist; not only will you be visible but it will help keep you afloat if you get caught in a riptide and are dragged out to sea (please research these and how to spot them.. some coastal areas experience them more than others). A waterproof phone cover means you can have your phone on you in case of emergency.
- Stay away from rocks and cliff edges.
- Waves are stronger than they look. The pull back from the wave can pull you down and knock you over then before you have chance to get back up you have a wave crashing on top of you (these can be as low as shoulder height).
Here are some quick look safety tips for Wild/cold water Swimming and Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP).
Here are some useful links to read for more information.
Cold Water Swimming – NOWCA – Official website
Wild Swimming – outdoors in rivers, lakes and the sea
Iceswim on Instagram