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Why cold water is more than just a trend: The surprising health benefits

Why we love and 'encourage' starting the day on our retreats with a cold water 'dip' in the ocean... and why now is a good time to start if you are thinking about it!

Smiling while immersed in the cold water at Lake Coniston, Cumbria on a Cold Water and Yoga Retreat
Cold Water Dip in Lake Coniston, Cumbria

I discovered the cold water buzz about 5 years ago and we have been making this a part of our retreats since. It started for me out of 'curiosity' and not because I liked cold water! I was very much a "coldy" as I referred to myself.

After moving to Devon and becoming an all year round surfer... surfing through the winter and enjoying those Boxing Day and New Years Day surfs, that soon turned in a cold water dip on my birthday in January too, I asked myself 'Why?' I was doing this and enjoying it (if I have never liked the cold!)?

It was the feeling during and after (not before...believe me!), I just felt so "alive", my whole body was buzzing and it cleared ANY hangover I tell you! Even when I was in my winter wetsuit surfing, that feeling of that ice cold water on my face started to become addictive. It was no longer just about the surf (which in winter in the UK isn't always great conditions... just wild, windy, messy and cold!)

Nowadays everyone is curious and doing it! From cold water dips, ice baths in their garden and regular lake or even local pools swims (or dips) and here's why...

Benefits of Cold Water

There are lots of different studies out there showing the different benefits of cold water as a form of therapy, for mental health, boosting your immune systems, mood, circulation. As well as things like improving your sex life, burning calories, helping with chronic pain, reducing stress, but these are the ones I find really interesting and for me are the reasons I am motivated to continue to do it!

  1. NATURAL BOOST FOR THE IMMUNE SYSTEM - The initial shock of the cold water prompts your body to produce more white bloods cells, that are responsible for fighting disease and infection in the body. It's like work-out for the lymphatic system (a network of vessels that run throughout the body) which are reliant on muscle contraction to pump fluid and flush out waste and bateria from your body. So this helps boost your immunity and ability to fight off colds, infections, inflammation and joint pain (it has been said to help relieve symptoms of conditions like arthritus and chronic pain) Whether that be a cold shower, wild swimming outdoors, or in a cold pool, exposure to cold water boosts your immune system.

  2. A NATURAL HIGH - A chemical called 'endorphins' is released in the body when immersed in cold water. Endorphins are a 'feel good' chemicals that can also release stress, create a feeling of 'wellbeing' and help us to cope with pain. Endorphins are the bodies natural painkiller. Cold water also stimulates the production of noradrenalin as well as serotonin, cortisol, dopamine. All neurotransmitters (like electrical signals from nerve endings to the brain) that play an essential role in regulating stress, emotional responses and cognitive function. Also cold water 'swimming' is a form of exercise and exercise is known to help with things like depression.

  3. IMPROVES BLOOD CIRCULATION - Cold water exposure over time, can support our vital organs, by redirecting blood flow to our vital organs, encouraging the body to circulate blood more efficiently and effectively.

  4. HELPS REGULATES THE NERVOUS SYSTEM (STRESS) - In a highly demanding world that just never seems to stop, it is important to find ways to regulate the nervous system, to find balance and calm the mind and body. If you have a dysregulated nervous system you may suffer from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, poor sleep, IBS or digestive problems and experience pain or inflammation within the body. Cold water will not only boost our immune system, increase our blood circulation, produce these feel good chemicals and help build our resilience to pain, but it also helps us to regulate our nervous system. How...? It triggers the 'Vagus nerve' (another subject I'll share more about in another journal!) Cold water immersion introduces 'stress' into the body known and the 'fight or flight' response and activating whats known as the 'sympathetic' nervous system. This response increases our heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels in the body (which can help improve alertness and focus) Then after introducing a stress response into our body, it then works to return the core body temperature to normal by activating the 'parasympathetic' nervous system (rest and digest) via the Vagus nerve (the main component of of the parasympathetic nervous system) Regular exposure to cold water, builds resilience, supports our bodies natural defence systems and helps us find more balance - when done safely.

women swimming in a cold water pool on retreat
Our natural salt water pool on our Devon retreats

If you are curious or interested in experiencing some of these benefits, we offer an 'introduction' to cold water on our Surf & Yoga and Day Retreats. With the cold water not being the main focus/activity on the retreat, it takes the pressure off. It suppliments the other activities like surfing, yoga, breathwork and mindfulness. So it is more of an 'opportunity' to join us for a 'morning dip' in the ocean or pool before yoga. You can go in as 'deep' as you want (ankles only if you like!) and stay in as long as you want ( and straight back out! ;0) So no pressure to swim, stay in for any length of time and you're welcome to bring a wetsuit - but we highly recommend swimwear otherwise you do miss all the real benefits.

We add this on to our retreats because of the health and wellbeing benefits, alongside being by water (Bluemind), in nature and 'trying new things' alongside the social aspect of this activity.

NOW is the time to try it as the sun warms the water and it's warmer when you get out... a little sunshine always boosts the confidence! But the warmest times in the water are September and October when the water has had time to warm up over the summer months. Definitely start before winter, ease yourself in gradually and build up to the cold (maybe even starting with cold water 'blasts' (turning the shower to cold at the end of your shower and practice breathing slowly)

Once you 'taste' of the benefits and experience that 'feeling' after, before you know it... you're likely to do it again and again and maybe find yourself a new hobby!

When entering into cold water, it is also important to use breathing technique and warm ups/movement before and after being in cold water to support the body returning back to it's normal temperature, especially in colder climates.

PLEASE NOTE: Always exercise caution when entering cold water and go with a friend. Do you research on the water and area to check that it is safe for swimming, or on lifeguarded beach. Please check with your GP if you have any health conditions and do it with someone who is qualified or knows the water.


1 Day 'Summer Reboot' Retreat Devon  - Next one is 8th June 2024

Women & Water Cornwall Retreat (4 nights) - Next one is 21st -25th June 2024

Or get in-touch as we do private and bespoke retreats or experiences for couples or small groups.

women with arms in the air smiling while in cold water on a surfboard

Other interesting articles on Cold Water you might find interesting...

Thanks for reading!

Wild & Free Adventures... see you in, on or around water on an adventure somewhere some day!

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