When you are out in the wilderness, the temptation is always there… to jump into that ice cold glacial lake, or ocean, or get under that waterfall, or even just dip into that stream. You know you envision yourself doing it, but most people never actually do. The feeling of that absurdly cold water on your feet or hands initially makes pretty much anyone want to run straight for the camp fire! However, there are some really good reasons though to suck it up and take the plunge. But first,
The Science Behind What Is Happening:
When people first immerse themselves in such frigid water, their bodies go into “cold shock,” and they start gasping for air, which puts a strain on the heart. (If you have a weak heart, maybe just do a head dunk!) The blood vessels on the outer part of your body constrict to try to retain heat, and that constriction shifts your blood demand more to your inner organs, trying to keep them warm. In healthy people, the discomfort only lasts for about 30 seconds and then dissipates after 23 minutes. For a good healthy dose, try to stay submerged in the water for about 20 seconds.
1. Boost Your Immune System
For your body, a sudden and drastic change in temperature constitutes an attack on the system. And, while “attacking” your own body may not sound like a good thing, there is no harm in keeping it on its toes. In fact, quite the opposite. Cold water stimulates the release of substances vital to immune function, such as cytokines.
2. Get An All-Natural High
If you have ever jumped in freezing cold water, you know the ‘high’ you get? The feeling of wellbeing that’s so encompassing that it becomes quite addictive (who doesn’t want to feel truly good, at least once a day?) The cause? Endorphins.
Endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers and, in the case of a cold dip, it uses them to take the sting away from your skin. So, to get high on your own supply, all you need to do is jump in. And if you think that sounds dangerously close to the pleasure/pain barrier then you’re probably right. The two other primary causes for endorphin release are pain and orgasm.
The cold will also stimulate your parasympathetic system, which is responsible for rest and repair, and this can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are a vital part of keeping us happy and low levels of them are linked with depression. Couple this effect with the endorphin rush as you take the plunge and it should make for a warm glow and a wide smile when you re-emerge.
3. Improve Your Sex Life
In a study where participants took daily cold baths and were monitored for changes, researchers found increased production of testosterone and oestrogen in men and women. In addition to enhancing libido in both sexes, these hormones also play an important role in fertility. In fact, one technique recommended for men looking to fatherhood is to bathe their testicles in cold water every day. Whatever your procreative desires, a dip of a different sort certainly could add an edge to your sex life.
4. Improve Your Skin
Being hot brings blood to surface. Being cold sends it to your organs. Both extremes work your heart like a pump. That’s why the whole sit in the sauna, roll in the snow, sit in the sauna thing makes people glow. But why is increased blood flow good for you? Well, it helps flush your circulation for starters, pushing blood through all your capillaries, veins and arteries. It will exfoliate your skin and flush impurities from it, thus helping your complexion (firm-bodied women of all ages around pool sides say it stops cellulite). Evidence also demonstrates that your body adapts to the cold with repeated exposure and this may improve your circulation, particularly to your extremities – no bad thing in the winter months. You could get these benefits by switching between the hot and cold taps in your shower (or the sauna, snow, sauna thing) but that doesn’t sound nearly as fun as quick dip in your local pond followed by wrapping up warm afterwards.
5. Burn Calories
We all know that swimming is great exercise but there are some extra benefits from doing it in a glacial lake that you just won’t get from a warm wade in a summer lake. Swimming in cold water will make your body work twice as hard to keep you warm and burn more calories in the process. For this sort of exercise, fat is your body’s primary source of energy and the increased work rate will increase your metabolism in the long run.
6. Antioxidative Protection
Short term exposure of the whole body to cold water produces oxidative stress, which makes glacial dippers develop improved antioxidative protection. There are indications that those who expose themselves to extreme cold conditions do not contract diseases as often as the general population. The incidence of infectious diseases affecting the upper respiratory tract is 40% lower among winter swimmers when compared to a control group.
7. Get Clean
After a long day of backpacking or hiking and sweating under your pack, there’s nothing more satisfying than the refreshing cleanse and wake up call you get after jumping in. Clean your pores and those unmentionable parts, and start your day fresh and clean. It definitely beats the typical wet-wipe bath!
8. Make a Memory
Make a memorable experience with your friends that no one will ever forget; and of course, don’t forget to capture the instagram pic of a lifetime! ;)
9. If You’re Gonna Go, Go All The Way
It’s one thing to backpack miles into the middle of nowhere to SEE the glacial lake, and it’s another thing to actually go the extra mile (pun intended) and experience the whole submersion of the experience. Just an extra bonus to the trip!
We all go adventuring for one reason (among others of course), to expose ourselves to the elements of nature. To get away from technology and truly experience the world our bodies were meant to experience. Our great ancestors exposed themselves to these cold waters thousands of years ago, and it helped shape our DNA to who we are today, and to keep our minds and bodies fresh, so keep up the cycle and JUMP IN!
CAUTION: People with a family history of stroke, aneurysm, blood pressure problems, hypertension, or sudden cardiac death, should be extra cautious and should probably be evaluated by a doctor before jumping in near freezing water.
When bathing or just jumping in the Glacial Lakes, or wild bodies of water, please make sure not to use harsh perfumes and soaps, or dump any chemical treatments into the water. These waters are sacred and our purest forms of nature, together we can help preserve them and enjoy them the same. Remember to always practice Leave No Trace ethics.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.