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Findings from a major scientific review published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health suggest that swimming in cold water may cut “bad” body fat in men as well as reduce the risk for disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Cold water bathing is becoming an increasingly popular hobby, and oddly enough it may even have health benefits, however, the results of this review were overall inconclusive regarding the beneficial effects.
According to the researchers, 104 studies were analyzed by the researchers that demonstrated significant effects of cold water swimming, which included good fat which helps to burn calories and could help to protect against obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Authors from Uit The Arctic University of Norway and the University Hospital of North Norway noted that most of the available data involved a limited number of participants who were often of one gender, and also had water temperature differences as well as salt composition differences. Additionally, it was not made clear whether or not winter swimmers are naturally healthier.
“From this review, it is clear that there is increasing scientific support that voluntary exposure to cold water may have some beneficial health effects,” states lead author James Mercer, from UiT. “Many of the studies demonstrated significant effects of cold-water immersion on various physiological and biochemical parameters. But the question as to whether these are beneficial or not for health is difficult to assess.”
“Based on the results from this review, many of the health benefits claimed from regular cold exposure may not be causal. Instead, they may be explained by other factors including an active lifestyle, trained stress handling, social interactions, as well as a positive mindset.” “Without further conclusive studies, the topic will continue to be a subject of debate.”
Cold water bathing has many forms like swimming in cold water during winter or just taking a quick dip. Whatever the form is, this activity is gaining much interest from around the world, especially with the growing claims of health and well-being benefits from anecdotal cases ranging from increased libido, improved mental health, and weight loss.
The researchers excluded studies from their review in which participants wore wetsuits, the exposure was an accidental immersion, and where the water temperature was greater than 20 degrees centigrade. Studies eligible for review covered inflammation, adipose tissue, the immune system, oxidative stress, and blood circulation among other themes.
Regardless of the method used for cold water bathing, the immersion in cold water has a major impact on the body, triggering a shock response such as an elevated heart rate. Some of the studies provided evidence that cardiovascular factors were improved by those who participated in cold water immersion who adapted to the cold. However, other studies suggested that the workload on the heart is increased from the exposure.
This review did provide some insights into positive links between cold water swimming and brown adipose tissue, this is a good type of body fat that is activated by cold and burns calories to maintain body temperature. According to the researchers, cold water exposure appears to increase the production of adiponectin by the adipose tissues. Adiponectin protein plays a role in the protection against insulin resistance, diabetes, and other diseases.
Findings suggest that for inexperienced and experienced swimmers repeated exposure to cold water swimming during the winter months significantly increased insulin sensitivity and decreased insulin concentrations. The profiles of the participants ranged from elite swimmers, to established winter bathers, those with no previous experience, and those who were not strictly ice bathers but used cold water immersion as a treatment post-exercise.
The researchers also noted that there are also health risks associated with cold water immersion including the consequences of hypothermia, and of heart and lung issues related to the shock from the cold among other negative effects. More research is required on this subject to make any solid conclusions.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.
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