Submerge yourself in cold water and feel the mental and physical health benefits.

It’s January, a month in which many of us are prone to spirits dipping as drastically as the temperature (the weather, the post-Christmas blues, depleted funds, the looming prospect of tax returns, the legacy of overindulgence, yada yada yada). Naturally, then, it feels like the moment in the year to batten down the hatches, to curl up and, well, shovel hot buttered toast into our mouths while we watch too much TV in our pyjamas and go full anti-social/ feral.

And yet, as devotees of cold swimming will attest, there is another way. Sure, it may feel counterintuitive to plunge our bodies into sub-zero bodies of water just as we feel at our most fragile, but don’t dismiss the idea just yet. There are myriad purported health benefits to the practice, which is fast gaining in popularity in the UK. From the rugged coastlines to picturesque rivers and lakes, the new craze for cold water has taken particular hold over the pandemic, as outdoor pursuits became our chief means of socialising safely.

To underline that trend, Google searches for wild swimming increased a staggering 94 per cent between 2019 and 2020. For many, forming or joining groups has been a social lifeline in a period when numbers of people suffering loneliness have been at an all-time high. Plus, it’s a low-cost hobby that requires very little in the way of equipment. You can join open-water swimming groups, explore the best places for cold water swimming in the UK – or simply grab your costume and go.

But the social aspect is just the start of cold-water swimming’s positive impact on mental and physical health. A report in the British Medical Journal was the first to highlight that wild swimming may be an effective treatment for depression, while others trumpet its power to reduce stress, too. Meanwhile, particularly pertinent to the pandemic has been its immunity-boosting benefits, thanks to the fact that immersion in cold water helps to increase your white blood cell count as the body is forced to deal with the extreme conditions, as well as improving circulation by dint of flushing veins, arteries, and capillaries. It also gives you a natural high, the euphoria activated by endorphins that we release as a coping mechanism as we are brought closer to the pain barrier. And, finally, it burns calories too, making this the ideal activity in a post-Christmas yet still Covid-ridden world; the perfect way to burn off some of the excesses while not requiring you to be inside a gym. Convinced yet?

For further encouragement, we chatted to Stuart Sandeman, founder of Breathpod, which you can follow on Instagram here and host of BBC Radio 1’s Decompression Sessions. He outlined the top benefits of cold-water swimming for us here.

Stuart Sandeman’s Benefits Of Breathwork

Managing Stress

Through breathing, you can control your fight-flight and rest-digest responses, giving you more power to manage stress throughout the day.

Improving Sleep

Slow, deep breathing, especially emphasizing the out breath, helps your body to relax and settle down to a long, restful sleep.

Boosting Immunity

Deep breathing techniques strengthen your body’s immune system, keeping colds and other illnesses at bay.

Processing Emotions, Healing Pain And Resolving Trauma

Breathing interventions, especially over time, really help you to understand, integrate and move past difficult emotions, as well as deep trauma or emotional struggles you might have had in the past.

Increasing Self-Awareness And Introspection

Breathing makes you much more conscious of what you’re doing, how you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, encouraging you to look inwards more and get to know yourself.

By Nancy Alsop
December 2021

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Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.