Take the Plunge: Research Suggests Cold Water Exposure May Help Support Mood, Alertness
Jumping into a cold shower or frosty lake may sound like something only foolhardy souls would consider. But growing evidence suggests that a splash of cold water may help support mood, wellbeing, and mental alertness.
One study suggested that outdoor swimming in cold water, for example, may support positive mood levels.
This was demonstrated in a 2020 study that examined 61 swimmers and 22 control subjects during a 10-week swimming course. Participants completed a mood assessment before and after each swimming session, of which three were held indoors and seven were held outdoors. The control group sat on a pool balcony during the indoor sessions and on the beach during the outdoor sessions.
The swimmers demonstrated increases in wellbeing and positive mood, the researchers found, noting the improvements were significantly greater than those of the control subjects.
Similar findings were found in a study of 228 people (between the ages of 19 and 88 years) that included 107 winter sea bathers and 121 controls. The winter sea bathers (even the elderly) had a perception of higher wellbeing, according to the study. Swimming in cold water can result in a positive circle between body and mind, thus improving the health of practitioners, the researchers suggested.
Experts point out that exposure to cold water sends electrical impulses to the brain, which can jolt your system to increase alertness, clarity, and energy levels.
Cold water on the body is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline, as well as increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain, according to one study. Because of the high density of cold receptors in the skin, researchers said, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in beneficial effects on one’s mood.
Another study of cold-water swimmers suggests the benefits of experiencing cold water may also include decreased fatigue. After four months, swimmers in the study felt themselves to be more energetic, active, and brisk than those in the control group, the researchers found.
Hydrotherapy for health promotion has been used widely for millennia, including in ancient cultures of India, Egypt, and China, other researchers point out.
Gaining the benefits of cold-water exposure can be as easy as turning down the temperature on your shower. A university health expert’s tips for gaining the benefits include keeping the shower water below 60 degrees; starting with 30 seconds of cold water; working up to two to three minutes; and alternating between hot and cold water.
Pharmacists can add cold water activities to the mix of advice for clients.