During the chill of winter, when most pools are closed and covered, and many natural bodies of water iced over, some intrepid souls brave the cold and take the plunge anyway. It’s a form of discomfort, they say, that comes with significant benefits not found in warmer temps.
By Eric Herman
I have long been intrigued by the act of deliberately jumping into freezing cold water. The notion of intentionally plunging into water that is best suited for walruses, polar bears and other sea-going beasts on one hand does seem positively insane. Yet, on the other, many people do it and according to a variety of sources, cold-water immersion or “ice swimming” is growing in popularity.
Proponents of cold-water immersion, such as The International Ice Swimming Association, point to a list of profound physical and psychological benefits that have been widely studied and verified. Although some of these may seem counterintuitive, it also may explain why ice swimmers are rarely sick:
 Immune system boost: Although we associate being cold with getting sick, truth is cold water immersion helps boost your white blood cell count as the body reacts to the sudden change of conditions. In effect, your body gets better at mobilizing its defenses through a teeth-chattering plunge.
 Endorphin high: Your brain produces endorphins to improve our mood and feel better physically. It’s why we feel so good after exercising. As a form of exercise, cold-water swimming has been proven to positively impact those suffering from depression. Because cold-water swimming brings us close to the pain barrier, it forces the release of endorphins to enable us to better adjust to the shocking cold.
 Enhances circulation: Cold water immersion forces blood to the surface of you body and pushes the cold downward, which flushes your blood vessels in the process. Repeated immersion increases circulation, a great benefit for older people and others suffering with circulatory issues.
 Increases libido: This one comes as a surprise given that cold water traditionally seen as a way to suppress sexual urges. (One might recall a certain Seinfeld episode on “shrinkage.”) In fact, cold water immersion increases the libido by boosting testosterone and estrogen production.
 Burns calories: This benefit is not surprising, as the heart pumps faster and the body works harder to stay warm while swimming in cold water. You will burn far more calories than swimming in warmer conditions. Perhaps this is why cold-water swimmers are usually svelte.
 Reduces stress: A number of studies have demonstrated a link between cold water and stress reduction. Cold water swimmers are naturally calmer and more relaxed and, as a result, may be stronger in the face of adversity.
That is quite the impressive list of benefits, and further evidence how an aquatic lifestyle can benefit the mind, body and soul. I can only admire those with the fortitude to take the leap into icy water
As for me, I am still in no hurry to become walrus-like.