In Nordic tradition, hardy people plunge into icy waters during the winter months, when the temperature can drop to 2°C, before heading into a steamy sauna to recover from the chill. In recent Australian tradition, of course, thrill-seekers take dips in iced-up ocean pools, then enthuse about the life-changing powers for days on Instagram. (How do you know if someone’s a cold-water swimmer or not? Oh, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.)
Whether you’re a champion of the trend, or are sceptical of its purported mood-boosting benefits, the latest research provides a new and compelling reason to take the plunge.
In a study published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, young men who participated in icy swims and sauna sessions at least once a week were shown to have a metabolic advantage over those who didn’t partake.
Exposure to extremes of temperature on both ends of the spectrum improved ‘thermoregulation’ (that is, the ability to regulate their body temperature) compared with a control group. They were better able to tolerate the cold – a useful skill for your early-morning runs – and could cool themselves more effectively in hot temperatures, too.
As an added bonus, this adaptation meant that their bodies also started to burn more kilojoules in an effort to maintain a more comfortable temperature, leading experts to posit that chilly swims might be a promising strategy to amp up energy expenditure and therefore weight loss.
Add to that some recent research from the University of Portsmouth showing that a brisk dip leads to “an immediate improvement in mood . . . and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression”, and it’s worth braving the freeze. Not feeling quite ready to dive into the ocean? A 30-second cold shower is an excellent start.