As temperatures near freezing, they’re off again - these are the winter swimmers! In the river Elbe, in the Wöhrsee or the Orankesee, from north and south Germany, the coolest and most hard-bitten water rats meet year on year to defy the wet and cold by bathing together. Winter bathing guarantees not just a high fun factor, but can even make a contribution to your health. But how exactly does it do that, and what exactly does it involve?
Purpose of winter bathing
Winter (or ice) bathing means going up to your chest in water at temperatures around freezing. The rapid cooling effect gives the body a severe temperature shock. To stay warm, the body responds by producing heat as quickly as possible. After briefly constricting due to the drop in temperature, the blood vessels dilate. This speeds up and stabilizes the circulation.
Regular winter bathing can improve your health
They say that regular winter bathing can strengthen the immune system, protecting you from infections. Many people also find that the improved circulation after bathing in the cold water, which makes you feel much warmer, feels very pleasant. And the cold is also associated with an increase in physical performance.
That’s because the body reacts to extremely low temperatures by excreting valuable substances such as adrenalin, endorphins and anti-inflammatory corticoids. That means the body can sometimes regenerate itself more rapidly after physical exercise. So there’s a good reason why high-performance athletes in particular like ice baths, and they are almost part of the post-training routine.
Be careful about the length of an ice bath
But to avoid risks to your health, it’s important to keep you stay in the water down to just a few second or minutes. And you need to warm up well beforehand, either by exercising or putting on thick clothing. The same applies to the period following the bath. That’s the way to reduce the risk of hypothermia to a minimum. It’s also important never to bathe alone. Companions can help if you have a fall.
However, a general principle is that people with health problems should never go winter bathing. This applies in particular to people with cardiovascular problems. It’s vital to consult your doctor if you are at all unsure.