Mental health benefits of cold water swimming?

Some people have loved the idea of cold water swimming for years - from both a mental health and physical wellbeing perspective for a while now.

Increasingly the benefits are being clearly understood, and shared, so that more people can benefit from doing it.

Personally, Shannon and I have been keen open water swimmers since around early 2004. In hindsight, our interaction was more open water swimming (though it felt cold at the time) as we were getting into triathlons, rather than cold water. One thing to note, it is so important from a safety viewpoint, to get used to colder water, rather than going straight in. In away, we had an long climatization period getting used to cold water.

As proud owners of an 'urban ice bath,' 2 half whisky barrels and regular dippers in a local lake through the year, I think we classify ourselves as cold water swimmers.

Improves peoples mood

Mood improvements come from the initial 'shock' when the body releases adrenalin around the body in reaction to the cold water. Glucose and fats are released into the blood, your blood pressure rises and heart rates increases as the body creates energy to enable the 'fight or fly' response of the sympathetic nervous system. Triggered by the cold water, the brain also releases hormones to cope with pain relief and also a sense of euphoria

Over time your body gets used to the cold - in that the stress response to the cold can halved after only 6 cold water sessions.

This reaction can also make you less reactive to stress.

Helping to manage depression

Inflammation, is a response of the body when it is preparing for injury or fighting an infection. Chronic inflammation is also associated with people suffering with depression. Research has shown that people taking anti inflammatory medication with anti depressants experienced reduced levels of depression in comparison to taking anti depressants alone.

Physical wellbeing!

Physical activity in itself has a positive impact in people's mental health as well as physical health. Swimming (in a pool or in open water) offers a low impact, full body workout for arms, shoulders, legs and core - whilst having to maintain and control your breathing.

Social interaction

If people are suffering with mental health one of the suggestions is to get out in the open air and socialise with other like minded people and share positive experiences. With more and more lakes open year round, more people are getting in the cold water year round. (We also invite friends over to share our cold water tubs - though we have a limited uptake sometimes!).


Spending time in nature, and the fresh air, helps people to get away from the everyday stresses of life. When you add an element of cold water (and potentially physical exercise), you can 'get the most' from your time. Spending time in nature, observing what is around you helps to stay present and mindful that can help you for the rest of the day.

Obviously it's important to do your open water safely - be it in the shower, the bath, a tub outside, in local lakes, rivers or the sea.

We'll be sharing safety tips for cold water in another post.

Interested to find out more - why not try some of previous blogs

You can also find out more about Cold Water on our website.