The Benefits of Cold Water Swimming for Depression

Open water swimming

At MKKC, we believe in innovative, personalized treatment options that empower clients to achieve their goals. Recent research has shown that cold water swimming can be an effective way to cope with depression and reduce symptoms. Let’s dive deeper into the practice of cold water swimming and discuss how it can help with depression management.

All About Depression

About 3.8% of the world’s population experiences depression and yet it can feel like there aren’t effective treatment options available. Antidepressants are a typical medication option for reducing symptoms and they can be very effective. However, SSRIs aren’t the only way to reduce depression symptoms.

Cold Water Swimming

If you’ve been searching for unconventional depression treatment options, then you may have come across cold water swimming. The benefits of cold water swimming have been discussed for years, but the use of this method has become more and more popular recently.

One of the things that can make depression treatment difficult is severity. People experience a wide range of depression symptoms. For people with Major Depressive Disorder, many treatment options aren’t effective or don’t provide a high enough level of relief. However, cold water swimming is rapidly becoming a treatment many are using to benefit their mental health, regardless of the severity of their depression.

Research

There is increased interest in the connections between cold water swimming and mental health, including some clinical trials . One study found that college students had significant mood improvement after twenty minutes of cold water exposure. Cold showers are helpful for many humans.  Ocean swimming was integral to my self care during and I continue to swim year round because the mental, emotional and physical benefits are so profound.

Biology

We’ve established why cold water swimming can be helpful for depression, but why exactly does it have such significant effects?

Extremely cold water can act as a reset for the nervous system. 

During an immersion experience, the body experiences physical and mental stress and releases stress hormones. This response causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure as well as giving the peripheral vascular bed a full work out. Then the body settles into secondary stress management… endorphin release, decrease in heart rate as the peripheral vascular beds close and a drop and then leveling of stress hormones. Many of us were taught to believe stress hormones are bad, but they’re actually beneficial in this case. If a cold shower has ever helped you feel more awake and alert, then you have stress hormones to thank.

As individuals continue cold water swimming, their bodies begin to adapt to the elevated stress hormones. Hormone release becomes reduced with swimming consistency. This adaptation can transfer to other areas of life, such as coping with challenging situations, mood dis-regulation and . The body’s ability to evolve lends itself to the practice of cold water swimming, especially for those that are looking for mood regulation and pain management.

Limitations

Cold water swimming may not be accessible or practical for everyone. Those that have difficulty regulating their internal temperatures may want to refrain from cold water swimming. As always, it’s important to speak with a professional before adopting a new practice into your health routine.

Mental Health and Chronic Pain Management

Dealing with depression can be overwhelming. If you’re examining treatment options, consider the services we provide at Mt Kulshan and if they could be the right fit for you. We’ve helped clients reduce their depression symptoms and better their mental health.

Open water swimming

Open waters swimming at Marine Park, Bellingham WA

Sources

Case Report: Open water swimming as a treatment for major depressive disorder – PMC

Improved mood following a single immersion in cold water – Kelly – 2022 – Lifestyle Medicine

Sea Swimming for Treatment of Depression and Anxiety – Full Text View – ClinicalTrials.gov

Depression