Benefits of cold water swimming
Cold water swimming (also called ice swimming, winter swimming) has been practiced here in Finland for ages, but in the recent years it seems to have gained a lot of popularity both around the world and even more here in Finland. We’re so happy to see the shift to people enjoying the nature and our seas and lakes year round!
When talking about cold water swimming, people often think of an ice hole (‘avanto‘ in Finnish), but in reality it’s a broader term including much more than just the below-freezing water temperatures, and you can definitely join even if your local swimming spot doesn’t freeze over!
Here at Lilja the Label, we have really loved the cold exposure in our many lakes and the sea here in Helsinki. The cold water swimming season can be seen starting from around October and lasting all through winter until the water starts warming up again sometime around May.
Apart from being a lot of fun, several studies have suggested that cold water swimming has a great variety of different health benefits.
It boosts your immune system
Cold water boosts the white cell count in your blood system because the body is forced to react to the changing conditions when you dip your body in cold water. Once you have been practicing this for a while, your body gets better at activating its defence systems and therefore boosts your immune system against the common cold, for example.
It improves your blood circulation
Swimming in a cold water forces your blood to circulate in your extremities (hands and feet). If you feel like your hands or feet are often cold in the winter time, cold water swimming can even help in this, which seems paradoxical! However, repeated exposure helps your system to circulate blood.
It reduces stress
Anyone that has ever swam in cold water knows the feeling of leaving your worries behind (or in the ice hole). Once you’re in the water, the feeling makes it impossible to think of anything else, and in the long run, studies have shown that there is a link between frequent cold exposure and stress reduction.
It’s a great way to make friends or to meet with friends!
We don’t recommend going cold swimming by yourself, so always bring a friend for safety, but also for shared fun (and mental support!). There is also a great sense of community between cold water swimmers, and many cities and towns have groups that go together. This is a great way to make new friends and find a sense of belonging! We all know that socialising and friendships have a great benefit to general wellbeing. Even Finns, that usually keep to themselves and do not interact with strangers if not absolutely necessary, have been seen bonding with each other over the topic (and sauna!). This is a stereotypical joke, but it’s funny how it seems to be true more often than not!
Some things to remember….
… It’s not a competition! Don’t risk your safety to show off. Only stay in the water as long as you are comfortable with, don’t try to impress anyone and play with your safety.
… Get used to it! Start with shorter periods of time and preferably earlier in the autumn when the water isn’t freezing yet.
… Don’t run straight from sauna! Give your body a couple of minutes to adjust and prevent a huge drop in your body temperature.
… Don’t jump in! Use stairs or go from the shore. It’s better to get in the water slowly. Getting in the water too quickly can cause gasping of breath and cold-water shock.
… Bring warm clothes! Warmer than you would normally wear that day. It’s an amazing feeling wrapping up in something warm and cosy after a freeing swim.
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