Cold Therapy: What is it and how do you start?

Strictly speaking it’s not quite the right season in the UK to be talking about cold water, and actually, we’re having a bit of a heat wave at the moment too (not complaining!). London’s outdoor swimming haunts have warmed up somewhat, and the Hampstead heath ponds - by far my favourite place to swim in the city, are a balmy 20 degrees right now. However, it’s actually the perfect time to start swimming if you want to continue it through the colder months as you can gently acclimatise as the water gets cooler again until you don’t even notice that it’s 4 degrees…

It won't be long before you’re a cold shower convert because cold water is really addictive. It gives you such a hit of dopamine and a feeling of being on top of the world that once you’ve started you can’t stop. If you think you’re the type of person that just couldn’t do it and hates cold water then ask yourself this: do you feel good when you achieve something you thought you couldn’t have done? Exactly. 

The research is mounting too - studies are now showing that cold water immersion improves lymphatic circulation, improves cardiovascular circulation, reduces inflammation, boosts happiness and aids weightloss. If you can swim in some seriously cold water first thing in the morning then what can’t you do? It gives you the most incredible ‘can do’ attitude and peace that lasts throughout the day. All too often these days we are thinking of a hundred different things at once, but when you’re in the water there’s very little space in your mind for anything that’s not your immediate surroundings. 

Tempted? Here are some tips: 

Find a friend

Swimming, especially through the winter, is a great community activity. Seeing the same faces at the beach each morning or at the pond and perhaps sharing a cup of something hot afterwards is amazingly uplifting, it’s also the safest option to swim with a buddy if you’re going out into the ocean. 

Find a location

If you’re lucky enough to live by the coast then what are you waiting for! If you’re in the rural countryside then check out my favourite book ‘Wild Swimming.’ We’re blessed in the UK with an abundance of rivers and lakes to swim in. You could even dip in and out of Roger Deakin’s beautiful book which documents his journey around the UK swimming in pretty much every wild body of water that he can. In particular I love this excerpt: 

“I can dive in with a long face and what feels like a terminal case of depression, and come out a whistling idiot.” - Roger Deakin, Waterlog.

Respect the water

Especially if you are swimming in the sea, respect the tides, the rip currents  and the waves, even if you’d call yourself a confident swimmer. Ask local lifeguards or other swimmers where the safest places to swim are and what the tide and current is doing that day. Even if you’re in an unheated lido in the centre on London, if the water is really cold it can still be a huge shock to the system if you aren’t used to it and this can send your body into shock. 

Go slow

Get in slowly and focus on taking long inhalations in and out through your nose. Breathing out through your nose for longer than you inhaled for signals to your parasympathetic nervous system to switch on, which keeps you calm and not stressed. Wim Hoff, a.k.a. The Ice Man is famous for using cold water and breathing techniques to control our Central Nervous System, which is not something we actually have control over as humans. If we did, we’d be able to say “okay I’m not stressed anymore,” and we wouldn’t be. Sadly, that’s not the case...using breathwork and cold water though, Wim has tapped into this incredible power. 

Hot and Cold

Although it might be tempting, and feel great, the health benefits from being in the cold water are more powerful if you don’t just run into a hot shower straight away afterwards. In fact, to upregulate this further you can drink ice water before your swim to start taking your body temperature down. Personally, I’m in it for the feel good factor so on cold days I actually like to have a flask full of hot tea with me for afterwards. And trust me, tea never tasted so good. 

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