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The Benefits of Cold Water Swimming
In the North Sea

Here at Karma Coast, we are firm advocates of wellbeing practices and using our natural resources for the greater good and their lifestyle benefits on the body and mind. For example, the North Sea in the UK, which is on our doorstep, has very low sea temperatures, but that doesn’t stop people from swimming in it. In fact, on the northeast coast of England, there are many beaches where you can swim in the icy water year-round! 

In particular, Tynemouth Longsands beach and Cullercoats Beach have some fantastic spots for wild swimming. This article will explore how this benefits your health, as well as its popularity around these two beautiful beaches. So if you are looking to start cold water swimming, then this article is for you and outlines all the benefits cold water swimming brings.

picture of tynemouth priory

How cold shock response helps the body

Cold temperatures benefit the body in several ways. The cold shock response shocks you, forcing you to use up energy reserves and produce heat as quickly as possible. Coldwater temperature is vital as this is different from warm or hot water, where your muscles can relax with less effort because they don’t need to work so hard (and be cooled down).

All that extra warmth a swimmer generates will also help protect against hypothermia if someone falls into icy waters – something that can happen around these beaches! 

Why do cold water temperatures take your breath away?

Cold water is colder than cold air, and when we swim in it, our body immediately sends blood to this newly exposed skin surface. This causes a reaction called vasoconstriction, where the vessels inside the skin shrink so that less heat leaves with each breath of warm air breathed out through the mouth or nose.

The cold water feels like ice because there are no receptors outside your body for cold sensations (except maybe those nerves near your ribs).

We all have an internal sense of temperature controlled by various thermal sensors throughout our bodies, such as our mouths, noses, throats, and deep brain tissues. These sensors detect only warmth or coldness, not actual degrees Fahrenheit/Celsius. 

This is also known as the cold shock response or cold water shock and is a natural defence mechanism to preserve our core temperature.

How long should I swim in cold water?

The time it takes to acclimatize is different for everyone. If, after 15-20 minutes, you start feeling lightheaded or dizzy as the sea temperature starts to fall, then get out of the water and drink plenty of fluids. After 20 minutes, if your fingers are still very cold, that means they have been in the water too long, and it’s time to get out and get a hot drink. It is easier to start your outdoor dips in summer when the water temperature is at 16°C and above, and then keep on taking to the water as the temperature drops. 

Cold Water Swimming and hypothermia?

Outdoor swimming or taking a dip in the sea to cool down on hot summer days is becoming more popular. The sensation of jumping into cold water can feel invigorating and refreshing, but why does it happen? Swimming (or any other form of physical exercise) raises your body temperature, increasing blood flow.

The onset of hypothermia is likely to occur when a person is exposed or prolonged to cold air or water, lowering the core temperature. Even when out of the water, swimmers are at increased risk, more so if also exhausted or dehydrated. The colder the water, the higher the risk of hypothermia will occur.

The UK North Sea at Cullercoats Beach has long been regarded with awe due to its icy water that laps on shores just above freezing point. 

Meaning year-round sea adventure is possible when a swimmer may require to wear wet suits or other neoprene undergarments rather than just a swimming costume. The good news is that wetsuits do not remove the cold water shock response.

Exposing our bodies to the colder water temperature also affects mental health: people who swim regularly report feeling calmer, more alert, and happier when taking a dip during winter months. Cold water activates endorphins in the body, which can help reduce pain. 

Health Risks of Cold Water and Ice Swimming

When swimming, it is essential to be aware of potential cardiac and pulmonary risks due to cold exposure. The optimal core temperature of humans is approximately 37 °C, but prolonged immersion in cold sea water at less than 35 °C may produce hypothermia as body heat is lost to the environment.

The origin of this belief was formulated following the sinking of the Titanic disaster. In more recent years, research has been directed towards elucidating the pathophysiology of cold water immersion.

It has been suggested that there are four clear stages involved with cold water immersion that may result in rapid temperature drops leading to hypothermia. Each of the three stages of immersion is associated with unique risks. The Outdoor Swimming Society website is a great resource for those thinking of an icy dip.

What are the health benefits of cold water swimming?

sunrise over king edwards bay

Outdoor swimming also has benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease. The cold temperature helps clear the brain of amyloid plaques deposited on nerve cells and hamper communication between them. This results in improved cognitive function, decreased confusion, and less agitation in patients who swim regularly during the winter months.

The physical activity involved is helpful for weight management. Still, it can also provide a form of mild exercise that enhances cardiovascular fitness levels and strengthens muscles around joints while improving bone density over time too! Cold water helps to boost the white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to changing conditions along with stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Good news for people with arthritis

Cold water swimming can also be beneficial for people who struggle with arthritis. The cold temperature reduces swelling in joints, including pain and stiffness.

In addition, it is a natural alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs and topical treatments that are often less effective than cold therapy due to their limited blood flow circulation around the painful joint area! 

Suppose you’re looking for an activity that isn’t too strenuous but still provides some exercise. In that case, cold water swimming could be ideal for you as it works for all muscle groups at once without placing much strain on any one part of your body during physical exertion.

The North Sea offers many benefits because the icy waters help support weight loss goals by aiding the metabolic process and boosting fat-burning activities. There are many groups locally to join, which is perfect if you need the motivation to go for a dip. 

How does Cold Water swimming reduce Stress?

swimmer in the sea at sunset

Stress is a significant cause of many health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. Stress also has the power to lower self-esteem and mental well-being.

Cold water swimming places stress on the body physically and mentally so can be effective in stress reduction by allowing you time out from everyday life and stressful events so that your body recoups its natural equilibrium. This process can work wonders on both physical and mental health.

As cold water decreases our body’s temperature and reacts to the low temperatures, we enter into the “rest and digest” state, where blood flow flows towards organs such as the stomach or intestines rather than limbs, impacting the stress response and creating feelings of comfort while soothing digestive muscles.

What health benefits does Cold Water Swimming have for Dementia patients?

Taking to seawater can benefit Dementia patients as it can increase their mobility. This is because colder water temperatures have a stimulating effect, and this stimulation helps to improve blood flow, which in turn enhances memory function.

Some studies have found that swimmers with dementia experience higher happiness levels after open water sessions, too. Still, more research needs to be done before these findings are deemed conclusive – so until then, we won’t know if there’s any truth behind them or not.

Cold water increases your libido.

Cold water swimmers have been shown to increase their libido from cold water exposure. This is because the water stimulates blood vessels, testosterone production, increases circulation, and improves red blood cells, leading to increased stamina during sex.

It also temporarily reduces symptoms of depression due to a surge of endorphins, the chemical our brain produces to make us feel good during activities, when you enter the cold water and repeated exposure may stimulate a rapid vasoconstrictor response.

In fact, some cold water swimmers credit this with helping them overcome erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation. 

Is swimming in cold water good for weight loss?

A new study from the University of Aberdeen suggests that swimming in open water can help to reduce weight and improve your metabolic health.

The research team at Aberdeen found that a winter swimmer’s temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure all rise when they enter sea water. This increase is short-lived but enough for their metabolism to accelerate by up to 25%, therefore, burning calories.

This means fat cells are more likely to be burnt as fuel during this period, leading to reduced weight gain over time.

Researchers believe these changes may also impact Alzheimer’s disease or dementia with increased adrenaline levels enabling swimmers who suffer from memory loss due to such conditions to feel sharper and healthier than before they swam!

Open Water Swimming boosts your immune system.

man standing overlooking the water

Swimmers in the UK find the human body gets a nervous system boost when going for a dip in the sea, and it is a great way to boost your immune system and mental and physical wellbeing. A strong immune system can lead to fewer colds and less flu.

Swimmers in the North Sea also have plenty of other benefits, including good cardiovascular health.

It helps improve circulation and forces blood around the veins and strengthens muscles through this increased blood flow on exposure to colder temperatures. In addition, the sea provides an environment that offers resistance against muscle contraction when swam in or partaken from – leading to improved muscular strength and endurance. This forms one of the many reasons why people love open water swimming!

Do Open Water Swimmers have better mental health?

A cold water swim is a refreshing, invigorating, and rejuvenating way to improve your overall wellbeing and leave you in an enhanced mood. The sea water helps to lower core body temperature and brings us close to the pain barrier, which has been found in studies of people with Alzheimer’s disease who have enjoyed the benefits of cold water swimming.

Swimming with others can also be a great way to increase social interaction, which many people have found beneficial for their mental health. Creating a challenge or personal goal can also be a great way to push yourself in the water and improve physical fitness.

We have fantastic natural resources on our doorstep

We are told that swimming is one of the best forms of exercise out there, so it’s no wonder that many people have been taking up open water swimming as a new hobby over the last few years, both for its health benefits and as a great way to enjoy our local natural resources.

The icy temperatures also help improve brain function by increasing the speed of neural transmissions and assisting specific proteins to get taken up into tissue cells in critical places like the hippocampus – this can protect your memory from decline as you age.

How to swim safely in open water

When going for a swim in the sea or any open water in the UK with all the benefits it offers, it is essential to take precautions as there are risks.

  • Do not swim in dirty water or with a lot of debris, as this can cause infections and disease.
  • Check the sea’s current change before going out if you are unsure how strong it may be.
  • It is good practice to swim with other people to reduce risks if you get into difficulties.
  • It is essential to wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid when swimming in deep water. 
  • Ensure you learn how to do the lifesaving technique of “bringing someone back” before going out on your own so you are prepared if anything should happen. 
  • Enter the water slowly and gradually to get used to the colder water.
  • You may need to build up your tolerance levels before swimming in icy waters – for instance, if you live near a sea or river that is not as cold.
  • If after 15 to 20 minutes you start to feel lightheaded or dizzy, you should get out of the water and drink plenty of fluids.
  • If after 20 minutes your fingers are still very cold, that is a sign to leave the sea for now as it means they have been in there too long. 
  • Take some warm clothes to change into after your swim, don’t sit in wet clothing and bring a warm drink.