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Cold water swimming

Neuro Café 22nd June 2022 by Linda S

Paul is a stroke survivor and member of LEGS who has been cold water swimming for twelve years. Paul regularly joins swimmers in Hampstead pools where temperatures can be 5 degrees - but they prefer 2 or less!

Paul is convinced the cold water swims helped him through Covid. On one swim his foot was nudged by a seal.

Benefits of cold water swimming

  • Boosts the immune system

  • Improves circulation

  • Provides an opportunity to socialize

  • The cold - warm cycle can produce euphoria, emerging from the icy pool, you feel you can recover from what life throws at you

  • Gain confidence in your body

  • Hormones like Dopamine, Seratonin, Noradrelanine are released

  • Mindfulness in the water helps to reset your emotions and calms you down to help you cope with difficult life events such as divorce, death, job issues and grief

  • Reduces stress and anxiety

  • Research also shows positive affects for depression and dementia.

Sense of Community

Hampstead swimmers have a Bus Day in honour of a person who got hit by a bus, and a Glad To Be Alive day, which speaks for itself. Paul found his new swimming friends to be fun, supportive and vital in helping recovery; for example they glossed over language skills, that were affected from his stroke, in the early days in his recovery.

Dive in, have a chat with your mates! Paul has found a friendly community of swimmers who have visible and invisible conditions.

After a short video about the Hampstead Winter Nymphs, we learned about invitation swims, with tea and cakes competitively provided!

Tips and Caution

This activity can be dangerous and there are safety considerations.

  • Be mindful of accessibility in and out of the water.

  • Try to acclimatise gently to the water temperature.

  • Do not stay in too long.

  • Focus on breathing and beware of risks with pre-existing medical conditions.

  • Consult your doctor and inform the lifeguard of pre-existing medical conditions.

Questions from LEGS participants

Immersion – Swimming vs Showers?

  • Cold showers have some of the benefits but full body immersion has more benefits.

  • Putting your feet in cold water will not give you the benefits but a shower may.

  • Psychologists recommended cold showers during Covid for staff to keep up morale.

How do you cope with the cold?

  • Your body will cool down all over after your first few times.

  • After some time your body will react differently; blood travels to the core but overall temperature does not drop very much.

  • Never put your head under in winter! Vital organs may be fine but you might have the shakes afterwards.

How long does it take to get used to cold water swimming?

  • That differs depending on the individual. Paul acclimatised after about a week but it can take longer. Start this activity in summer then move to the colder part of the year. Be safe, enjoy it.

If a person suddenly falls into cold water accidentally, is it urgent to get them out quickly?

  • Yes. Mental preparation is important to being able to cope in cold water. If you fall off a boat you will not be ready:

- your heart slows down

- your mind panics

- you might swallow water

- your breathing may be affected

Get involved

Get in contact with your local lido or swimming ponds and say what you need. You could find a disability swimming club to practice first. They often have hoists and buoyancy aids.

Beware! This activity is addictive! Many people swim every day.

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