Lia Crowe takes a cold water swim in Okanagan Lake in Kelowna. Don Denton photograph

When Cold Is Hot

Cold water swimming is therapy and exercise

  • May. 26, 2021 8:30 a.m.

– Words by Toby Tannas Photography by Lia Crowe and Don Denton

It’s been a few years now since I first dipped my toe into the proverbial waters of cold therapy. It was more of a plunge, really, and it occurred on New Year’s Day, 2018.

After enduring a particularly challenging year, I was convinced by a German-born man (who would later become my husband) that submerging my body in the frigid waters of Okanagan Lake would signify a new beginning and help me to better tackle whatever challenges lay ahead.

I don’t think I was quite ready to receive any of the benefits from the water on that day. The shock of the frigid lake made me angry. I was so put off by the extreme discomfort that I didn’t speak to my friend for the rest of that day (and maybe the next), and I didn’t go near any kind of water that might produce a goose bump for the next two years.

But early in 2020 something changed. I learned about Wim Hof and his theory that cold water plunges bring about a cascade of health benefits. Also known as “The Iceman,” Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. He has developed the Wim Hof Method, which is a program for good health based on breathing, cold therapy and commitment.

Hof claims that cold therapy can help with everything from anxiety and weight loss to boosting mood and strengthening the immune system.

So, on that first day in 2020, I flipped my shower to cold—just 15 seconds to start. I worked up to 30 seconds, then 45, 60 and ultimately two minutes. Deep breathing is the key and while it never gets easier, there is a certain rush that follows a cold shower, which I can only describe as addictive.

I’ve now graduated to weekly dips in Okanagan Lake. My gumption is fortified by a small group of hearty souls who are equally committed to what sometimes feels like self-induced torture. My husband (that German guy) is among them and he’s even joined a band of “ocean-dippers” in Victoria, where he frequently travels for work.

Through reading and mostly online research, we learned that three minutes submerged is the magic number; it’s enough time to kickstart the purported health benefits. We stay in four minutes for good measure.

Do I like it? No. Will I continue to do it? Yes. And therein lies the complexity of doing something solely for the perceived health benefits. Cold water therapy is the cod liver oil of the previous generation. It’s terrible, but “they” say it’s good for you.

“They” are a growing number of performance coaches, recovery specialists and naturopaths. Chelsea Gronick is a Kelowna-based naturopathic doctor. She says modern science is starting to actively research and look more closely at cold water therapy; however, versions of hydrotherapy have been used for centuries to stimulate certain responses from the body.

“When the body is exposed to cold, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. That’s the fight-or-flight response. Hormones like adrenaline are released, the heart rate increases and blood vessels constrict forcing blood to your core,” she explains. “Once the body regulates it switches to a rest/relax/restore or parasympathetic nervous system. This training of your nervous system is a way to teach your body how to regulate when faced with various stressors, not just cold water but things that come up in daily life.”

The benefits have been shown to go well beyond improving stress tolerance. Cold water therapy can induce a stronger immune system response, increase metabolism, speed up weight loss (fat burning kicks in when shivering is induced), increase energy and improve sleep quality. It may even lower inflammation so the body can heal more quickly.

Dr. Gronick does have words of caution for those brave enough to explore cold water therapy. Go slow, she says: it’s important to gradually introduce cold water and increase your tolerance.

“A great starting point would be to end your showers at a temperature as cold as you can stand for 30 to 60 seconds. Practice good judgment and slowly work your way into this therapy to mitigate the potential risks.”

Risks can include hypothermia, hives and blistered skin if the water is extremely cold or if you stay in too long.

With mainstream science just starting to come around to the idea, one can really only go on how cold water makes you feel. My small group of dippers is flourishing with repeated exposure. All of us agree it is a weekly rejuvenation, and more and more people seem to be feeling the same way. We’re no longer the only ones at the beach, proving a winter swim is no longer reserved for those New Year’s Day polar bear dippers and hardcore northern Europeans in Speedos.

A cold water dip always comes with hoots and hollers from passersby, some snap photos and without fail someone always shouts, “How’s the water?”

The answer is obvious—it’s always cold (really cold) but there’s a kind of magic about it that’s making it one of the hottest wellness trends of 2021.

Will you be giving cold water therapy a try? Tag us in your cold water photos @boulevard_magazine

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

HealthHealth and wellnessLifestyleSwimming

Just Posted

Kimberley Search and Rescue were able to quickly respond to a call for service and transport an injured mountain biker to East Kootenay Regional Hospital over the weekend. Kimberley SAR file photo.
Kimberley Search and Rescue respond to injured mountain biker on Bootleg Mountain

Kimberley Search and Rescue responded to a call for service this past… Continue reading

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

x
City of Kimberley approves RCMP contract strength at eight members

At their regular meeting on Monday, June 14, 2021, Kimberley City Council… Continue reading

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Kimberley residents were treated to the first Farmers' Market of the season, and the feeling of a return to normalcy. Paul Rodgers photos.
WATCH: Kimberley’s first Farmers’ Market of the season

Kimberley residents enjoyed the first Farmers’ Market of the year on Thursday,… Continue reading

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

An example of the timber blowdown that let to the logging at Mountain Station. Photo: Anderson Creek Timber
Timber company logging near Nelson raises local concerns

Anderson Creek Timber owns 600 hectares of forest adjacent to the city

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Most Read