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Friday, 19 March 2010

Does cold water swimming benefit or harm your health ?

Tiejun Tang
Cold water swimming refers to swimming in water with a temperature of below 14℃. Does this activity benefit or harm your health? Many people ask me this question when they had known I am a winter swimmer. This question can not be answered with a simple yes or no. Let’s analyse the reaction of the human body to cold water stimulation from the point of physiology. This way you will gain a clearer understanding.


When people get into cold water this stimulates peripheral vasculature to contract. The blood will therefore be redistributed. More blood will enter the heart, brain and kidney. The blood supply of these important organs will thereby be greatly increased. After leaving the cold water the body temperature gradually returns to normal. The peripheral vasculature dilates. The blood distribution returns to normal. During this process the vascular moves from a state of contraction to dilation. Long term repetition of this stimulation increases the elasticity of the vasculature; this is good for preventing arteriosclerosis. That is why winter swimmers have less chance of suffering from hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Cold water swimming also can increase the blood circulation of skin, slowing down the ageing process of the skin and benefiting peoples’ immune system. Most cold water swimmers never catch a cold.

However, cold water swimming does not suit everybody. If someone has been diagnosed with arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure or other cardiovascular diseases, it will not be suitable for him or her to start cold water swimming. This is because sudden cold stimulation will raise blood pressure, and can increase the chance of heart attack and brain stroke. Sometimes it can even cause sudden death. For patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain might get worse after cold water stimulation. For ladies whom have period pain, winter swimming is also not suitable. For epilepsy patients, any kind of swimming is contraindicated.

Generally speaking cold water swimming is a very good sport for most healthy people. It will benefit you without any harm. For some people already suffering certain diseases such as high blood pressure, arthritis and dysmenorrhea etc. it might bring you more harm than good. For severe conditions of these diseases, cold water swimming is strictly forbidden.

If you are suitable for cold water swimming, you should start during summer time. The frequency of your swim should at least 2-3 times per week, gradually entering winter swimming. When the water temperature is below 5 ℃ you should stay in the water no more than 5 minutes.

If you are aware of the above principles, you will get the idea of whether or not you are suitable for cold water swimming and how to best enjoy your swim.