Jan 17 2012

A Cold Swim

In the summer months, the water temperature right off the coast of Edisto is in the upper 80s and inviting to just about everyone. This time of year the water temperatures are in the lower 50s… and hardly anyone wants to take a dip. But here’s something that might be shocking to most people: swimming in cold water can be good for you.

Every month there are people who make it a point to get in the water no matter what the temperatures are. In all my years on Edisto Beach, I wanted to experience the ocean while it was cold so I went in for a swim one December. This was years and years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

I wore a bathing suit with a shirt over it thinking that might make it seem warmer. It was about 60 outside and the water was probably the same. I walked in and it was cold, but not unbearable. I got all the way in past my waist and hopped around a little thinking that I was cool for being able to brave the cold water. Then a wave came and suddenly I found myself soaked all the way up to my neck and immediately retreated back to the shore, wrapped myself in a towel, and shivered for about an hour.

Although I’ll never get back in cold water, everyone should give it whirl at some point. But, to make the experience more enjoyable, take the following things into consideration:

  1. Wear a swim cap made of neoprene. This is stronger than standard latex caps and helps hold in body heat by protecting the head from the chilly water. Remember that the head is where most of a person’s body heat escapes from so trap the heat in with a cap.
  2. Neoprene socks can also help keep in body heat and protect feet from stepping on shells or seaweed on the ocean floor.
  3. Forget your swim trunks or bathing suit and wear a full body wetsuit. It won’t keep you from feeling the cold water, but it will help keep in your body heat.
  4. Wear ear plugs as a way to further keep your core body temperature stable.

Once you’re all suited up then get in the water. It’s a good idea to have someone else with you either in the water or on shore just as a safety precaution. It’s also important to remember that Edisto Beach has no lifeguards so swimmers should always make sure they are experienced with ocean swimming before getting in the water even if the ocean appear calm.

If cold water swimming is something you enjoy and decide to on a regular basis then here are some health benefits you could experience:

  1. The shock of cold water causes the body’s immune system to kick into gear because the temperature acts as a shock to the system. After repeated shocks, the immune system becomes trained in a sense to better fight off infections.
  2. As anyone who has ever been in the shower when the hot water runs out knows, cold water hurts. The body’s natural way to soothe pain is to release endorphins, so each time swimmers take to the cold water the body sends a surge of endorphins into the system.

In addition, the cold water stimulates the parasympathetic system, which is the body’s go-to system for releasing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine which are of the utmost importance when it comes to staying in good spirits. Low levels of these neurotransmitters cause depression, so if you’re feeling blue take a dip in the ocean.

  1. The cold causes blood to really get pumping, which exfoliates the skin and flushes out impurities.
  2. Your body has to work twice as hard in cold water as opposed to warm water, so cold water swimmers burn twice as many calories as their warm water counterparts.

If any of this seems like something you’re interested during these cold months, then get out there in the water and take a swim. Or, if swimming in the cold doesn’t seem like your idea of a good time, then wait until May or June when the water warms up again before getting in.

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Bob Hart Author

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