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A Sunday Morning Dip: Reaping the Benefits of Cold Water Therapy

If you’re anything like me and you love a good sunrise, you’ll make the effort to wake up that little bit earlier… even on a Sunday. It’s not so bad in autumn and winter when the sun rises later and later with each passing day, but often it still feels like quite a lot of effort. Well, last Sunday I decided to make the effort and head to the beach for a Sunday sunrise, coupled with a cheeky dip in the ocean.

I like to think I’m the spontaneous type but in actual fact, I’m not really. I tend to always need some kind of plan or preparation. So, I checked various weather apps for cloud cover, visibility and tide conditions for the morning and eagerly set my alarm for a 6am start. I live relatively close to Saltburn-by-the-Sea; it’s only a 30 minute drive from my house and is honestly one of my favourite places in the UK, so I don’t ever begrudge the short journey. However, I awoke on Sunday morning to a blanket of thick fog and if I’m being honest, fairly bleak looking conditions. Yet this did not dissuade me or my decision to go to the beach, and after all, I was already awake.

So, I pootled down to the coast, towel and wetsuit in tow, ready for a foggy morning dip and an absent sunrise. The journey itself is easy but the closer I edged to Saltburn, the denser the fog became. It wasn’t looking good. The optimist in me told me to keep going, so I carried on, jamming to Sam Fender along the way. Next thing I knew, most of the fog had cleared and I was looking at Huntcliff in a swathe of pink and yellow. Smiling to myself I thought, thank goodness I persisted because the sky really did look beautiful.

As I parked along the top, I could see a number of early risers already enjoying the chilly waters of the North Sea. They looked to be really enjoying themselves and I wanted to join them. I met with a friend and we quickly changed into our wetsuits (I’m new to ocean dips so no judgement, please). When I say quickly, I don’t mean quickly at all… putting on a tight, second skin in a hurry is a time-consuming job in itself but we’ll move on…).

Zipped up and sucked in, I started heading towards the sea, an excited nervousness washing over my body. Anybody who knows me knows I love the ocean, but there is something magnificent and yet terrifying about it. I confess, I’m not the best swimmer, so I think that played a part in the nervousness as well. But I was itching to get in anyway.

Dipping my toes in first, I could feel the cold water sending chills up through my legs and body. It was such a tingly sensation and I could feel my mind continue to buzz with excitement. There is nothing quite as invigorating as cold water splashing against your body, especially in a beautiful, natural setting like the beach or a lake. Before I knew it, I was up to my chest in the water, letting the gentle waves rock against me. My friend and I had made our way quite far out to get past the larger, breaking waves (or the danger zone as we called it… *insert Top Gun theme tune here*) as these were getting quite tall and caught us off guard a couple of times.

We both enjoyed floating around in the sea for well over an hour and saw several people join us within that time. It seemed to be a very popular thing to do and got me thinking, what sort of benefits are there to doing this more often?

So, I had a look into it and it turns out, cold water therapy is a very popular activity that has gained traction in the past couple of years, especially with the encouragement from motivational speaker and extreme athlete Wim Hoff. Cold water therapy, or cold hydrotherapy, is a method involving water measuring approx. 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower, to treat health conditions or stimulate various health benefits. These benefits can be reaped via a myriad of methods, including cold water immersion therapy, ice baths and outdoor swimming.

But what exactly are the benefits? It is thought that cold water therapy can help with the following:

- Improve and encourage deep sleep

- Improve circulation

- Increase energy levels

- Reduce body inflammation

Extensive research has not yet been done to determine the long term effects of cold water therapy, but recent studies have proven some of the above benefits to exist. For example, researchers claim that athletes who soak themselves in ice baths post-exercise have less muscle soreness than those who do not. Recent studies conducted in 2011 and 2016 have shown that participants in the study who did submerse themselves in an ice bath for 10 minutes said they had less muscle stiffness after 48 hours than those who did not use an ice bath. This is why ice baths are so popular in the world of athletics. It is said that, combined with proper stretching, your muscles relax three times as fast than without cold water therapy.

Cold water also reduces swelling and inflammation. This is because cold water triggers your blood vessels to constrict, reducing the blood flow to the sore area. Often when you have an injury, you are provided with an ice-pack or use a bag of frozen peas to reduce the swelling. As well as constricting blood vessels, cold water also kicks your lymph vessels into action. They contract, which forces your lymphatic system to pump fluids like lymphocytes (white blood cells) around your body. This reduces the build-up of toxins and your susceptibility to colds. By boosting your immune system, you lower your risk of infections. Cold water therapy has also been linked with weight loss, as it increases your capacity to burn calories by increasing your metabolic rate. Further research is currently being carried out to find out the effects of cold water submersion and weight loss.

Some scientists also believe that cold water therapy can have a positive effect on your mental health. While it is not a cure for mental health, some researchers suggest the practice could lower depression and anxiety levels. This is due to the boosted stimulation of neurotransmitters that are triggered by cold water. Your body becomes flooded with hormones such as dopamine and serotonin which make you feel happy and content. Of course, every individual is different and you should do whatever makes you happy! That might not include freezing your bits off in the sea on a Sunday morning!) I'm a strong advocate of blue spaces and how they benefit your wellbeing (see for more info).

And finally, cold water has also been suggested as a natural ‘anti-aging’ remedy which reduce wrinkles as it shrinks your pores and tightens your skin. This is because, unlike hot water which opens up and relaxes your pores, cold water constricts them, meaning less natural oil is secreted from your skin. Typically, this means you have less skin blemishes because there is little excess oil resting on your skin. Cold water also improves hair growth as it stimulates hair follicles, increasing the thickness and length of your hair.

Several of these cold water therapy benefits are still undergoing extensive research so it’s good to have an open mind. I thoroughly enjoyed my Sunday morning dip and highly recommend it to anyone who likes natural swimming or would like to try something new. I will definitely be infusing it into my weekly routine, that’s for sure! Please remember to always be safe, take a swimming buddy or a buoy with and make sure someone knows where you are at all times. Don't forget to warm up afterwards!

Have fun out there!


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