Immersing yourself in cold water might not seem to be an obvious way of protecting yourself from picking up viruses and other pathogens, but in fact it can do just that.

It is commonly believed that to stay healthy during the winter, we should wrap up warm when we go outdoors and avoid getting wet and chilly. However, this has nothing to do with an increased vulnerability to picking up a cold or flu, except for frail older people, or those who have serious underlying health problems. 

Viruses are in fact spread most easily in warm and crowded indoor environments. Because we tend to spend most of our time in these spaces during the winter, the prevalence of colds and flu infections soars, and it is often mistakenly assumed that the colder weather is directly responsible. Here’s a look at the benefits of cold water swimming for your immune system.

An increase in white blood cell production

When the body is exposed to cold water, it produces a natural stress reaction that triggers an increase in white blood cell production. These are a component of the immune system that are manufactured in the bone marrow and circulate through the body via the blood and lymphatic system. 

Maintaining an optimum white blood cell count is crucial for a healthy immune system. Cold water swimming can help to stimulate the release of white blood cells and potentially help them to stay in the system for longer. 

Improved circulation

Cold water exposure boosts the circulation, which helps to transport immune cells through the body more efficiently. It also delivers more nutrients and oxygen to the vital organs, improving overall function and strengthening immunity. 

Elevated endorphin levels

The intensity of the cold water exposure causes the body to rapidly release endorphins to protect the body from the effects of shock. This can induce the feeling of euphoria that open water swimmers widely report. As well as elevating mood, it can help to regulate stress hormones such as cortisol, which may contribute to a healthier immune system.

Small amounts of stress caused by that stimulated by high intensity exercise can have a protective effect on the body and mind, making us more resilient and able to deal with challenging situations. 

Better skin healing

If you are swimming in the sea, you may notice an improvement in your skin health and healing. This is because salt water contains minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium, that all have potential benefits for the condition of our skin. 

This is particularly true for people who suffer from conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis. Saltwater also has mild antiseptic properties that could aid with the healing of minor wounds.  

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Sarah A