University Study Finds Link Between Fat-burning and Cold Water Swimming
In Scandinavian tradition, hardy people plunge into icy waters during the winter months, when the temperature can drop to 2°C, before heading into a steamy sauna to recover from the chill. In recent British tradition, of course, thrill-seekers take a quick dip in the Hampstead Heath ponds, then enthuse about the life-changing powers for days on Instagram, in the Guardian or, indeed, in Men’s Health. (How do you know if someone’s a cold-water swimmer or not? Oh, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.)
Whether you’re a champion of the trend, or are sceptical of its purported mood-boosting benefits, the latest research provides a new and compelling reason to take the plunge.
In a study published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, young men who participated in icy swims and sauna sessions at least once a week were shown to have a metabolic advantage over those who didn’t partake.
Exposure to extremes of temperature on both ends of the spectrum improved their ‘thermoregulation’ (that is, their ability to regulate their body temperature) compared with a control group. They were better able to tolerate the cold– a useful skill for your early morning runs – and could cool themselves more effectively in hot temperatures, too.
As an added bonus, this adaptation meant that their bodies also started to burn more calories in an effort to maintain a more comfortable temperature, leading experts to posit that chilly swims might be a promising strategy to amp up energy expenditure and therefore weight loss. Next, they intend to trial it on overweight subjects.
Add to that some recent research from the University of Portsmouth showing that a brisk dip leads to ‘an immediate improvement in mood [...] and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression’, and it’s worth braving the freeze. Not feeling quite ready to dive headfirst into the English Channel just yet? A cold shower at your gym followed by a nice spell in the sauna will provide a host of significant benefits, too.
LOOK TO THE NORTH
Three new habits to adopt from Scandinavian culture: