Thinking of taking a cold water swim this Christmas? While Christmas is the time of year with many traditions, like presents, turkey and crackers, going for a swim in the icy cold sea has also become a firm favourite for families and sports organisations.
With Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day right around the corner, beaches, lakes and wild swimming sports across the country will soon be filled with people (some of them in whacky festive costumes) braving the cold water.
For some of you reading this, you might be thinking “why the hell would I go for a cold water swim in December in these sub-zero temperatures?!” and as someone who hates being cold, I wouldn’t blame you for giving this tradition a miss. However, I tried the Boxing Day swim for the first time ever last year and I’m so excited to do it again this year. Why? Well, winter swimming has incredible health benefits for your immune and cardiovascular systems, and has a positive effect on mood and stress levels.
If this year is your first time taking part in a Christmas swim or you’ve done it a few times, here’s everything that happens to your body when you take a dip in the cold water. Before you jump in, get your winter swimming wardrobe ready with the best wetsuits (opens in new tab) and best water shoes (opens in new tab), and if you want to make cold water swimming a habit, check out our wild swimming: a beginner’s guide (opens in new tab).
1. Good for cardiovascular health
Whether you’re actually planning to do a few laps or just taking a quick dip, winter swimming is incredibly beneficial for your cardiovascular health. When you get into cold water (even if you’re used to it), your lungs, heart rate and blood pressure increases rapidly. This response means your heart, cardiac output and respiratory system gets a bit of a workout which helps improve its functioning. This is just one of the reasons why people say winter swimming is a full body workout!
2. Improves circulation & immunity
Alongside improving your cardiovascular health, winter swimming is great for your circulation and immune system. As the cold water makes blood pressure rise, the constriction of your blood vessels improves the blood flow around your body. According to IPRS Health (opens in new tab), cold water swimming flushes the veins, arteries and capillaries and forces blood to the surface to warm the body which improves overall circulation. Cold water has also been studied to see how it affects the immune system, and the general consensus is that wild swimmers are more resistant to some illnesses and infections because cold water boosts white blood cell count which strengthens your immune system.
3. Burns calories
Many studies have shown that immersing yourself in cold water stimulates your metabolism. When the body is cold, it generates heat by burning ‘brown fat’ and calories, so when you’re submerged in cold water, it makes the body work harder to stay warm while you’re swimming. If you’re wearing heavy clothes like swimming shoes or a wetsuit, this also adds to your workout and you’ll definitely sleep better after your winter swim.
4. Reduces stress & boosts mood
While the idea of swimming in freezing cold water might sound horrible to you, it’s amazing for stress relief and boosting your mood, which is why so many people do it! It’s been proven in many studies (opens in new tab) that cold water activates endorphins and dopamine which makes you feel good while you’re swimming and after you’ve gotten out of the water. A boost of endorphins also helps reduce pain and stress, and improves your mood and libido.
5. Beneficial for skin
Due to your increased heart rate and blood flow from the cold water, this can change your complexation and give your skin a healthy glow. According to dermatologists (opens in new tab), cold showers and winter swimming tightens pores and reduces redness due to the constriction of blood vessels, so submerging your face in ice water or having a quick dip can be anti-ageing.