5am swims over 5 pints in the pub? Is the cold water swimming craze taking over our twenties?

An antidote to loneliness, an ego boost, and an Instagram story that makes your friends jealous. Cold water swimming has become a craze since the pandemic left people shut out of indoor pools and forced to stay with their family. 

Fitness influencers have flooded our screens with short breaths in their cold water tubs, and reservoirs are inundated with bobbing heads and fancy wetsuits during the winter.

But is it actually beneficial? 

Cold water (supposedly):

  • Boosts your immune system: Cold water boosts the white blood cell count, which fights off infections.
  • Gives you a natural high: Cold water swimming brings us close to the pain barrier, meaning endorphins are released which act as a natural high. Dopamine is also released and is said to release the same amount of dopamine as cocaine (swim don’t do drugs kids).
  • Improves your circulation: Swimming forces blood to the surface and over time adapts the body to the cold.
  • Increases libido: In ye olde times cold water swimming was seen as a way to suppress sexual urges, but it actually increases it due to the boost it gives to oestrogen and testosterone.
  • Burns calories: Overall, the heart has to pump faster in cold water and the body must work harder to keep everything warm, so more calories are burned.
  • Reduces stress: As cold water swimming places so much stress on the body, a lot of studies have identified the link between cold water and stress reduction.

Messy wanted to try this cold water swimming craze so myself, Olly, and Joe took to our local luxurious swimming spot (a dirty lake) for a dip. On a drizzly Sheffield morning at 9am, joined by our local cold swimmer Saoirse, who goes up to the lake three times a week, we met in the park to try and get this ‘enlightenment’ social media says it is.

I can’t lie, the pain arrived almost immediately. Me and Olly took to slowly creeping in toes first, wincing when it got to my stomach and chest. Meanwhile, Joe jumped in with the confidence of someone who could swim (I was doubting he could until then).

I did my best to keep swimming, the more I moved, the warmer I got, but the further into the freezing lake I was. Maybe a cheeky wee would warm me up? But as I swim around, I start to enjoy it.

The pain subsides and I can’t help but feel amazing. Maybe the scientists are right and my dopamine is increasing as much as it would be with one bump of coke. Best believe it’s still hell on earth, but looking across the still lake on the crisp May morning, it’s hard not to feel a sense of satisfaction.

I do the ungraceful roll out of the water, get the dogs into my now dirty sandals and attempt to put my clothes back on without flashing Olly and Joe (sorry for that guys). I can see the science behind it, and feel the endorphins and dopamine flowing through me and reducing my stress. I can’t help but feel better than everyone.

We felt better than wrapped-up dog walkers and sweaty runners trudging past us. The man who stopped us and asked “how can you do that, it’s so cold”. Maybe there is scientific evidence that cold water swimming is beneficial, but I can say for sure it is beneficial to your ego.

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