Lia Crowe takes a cold water swim in Okanagan Lake in Kelowna. Don Denton photograph

When Cold Is Hot

Cold water swimming is therapy and exercise

  • May. 26, 2021 8:30 a.m.

– Words by Toby Tannas Photography by Lia Crowe and Don Denton

It’s been a few years now since I first dipped my toe into the proverbial waters of cold therapy. It was more of a plunge, really, and it occurred on New Year’s Day, 2018.

After enduring a particularly challenging year, I was convinced by a German-born man (who would later become my husband) that submerging my body in the frigid waters of Okanagan Lake would signify a new beginning and help me to better tackle whatever challenges lay ahead.

I don’t think I was quite ready to receive any of the benefits from the water on that day. The shock of the frigid lake made me angry. I was so put off by the extreme discomfort that I didn’t speak to my friend for the rest of that day (and maybe the next), and I didn’t go near any kind of water that might produce a goose bump for the next two years.

But early in 2020 something changed. I learned about Wim Hof and his theory that cold water plunges bring about a cascade of health benefits. Also known as “The Iceman,” Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. He has developed the Wim Hof Method, which is a program for good health based on breathing, cold therapy and commitment.

Hof claims that cold therapy can help with everything from anxiety and weight loss to boosting mood and strengthening the immune system.

So, on that first day in 2020, I flipped my shower to cold—just 15 seconds to start. I worked up to 30 seconds, then 45, 60 and ultimately two minutes. Deep breathing is the key and while it never gets easier, there is a certain rush that follows a cold shower, which I can only describe as addictive.

I’ve now graduated to weekly dips in Okanagan Lake. My gumption is fortified by a small group of hearty souls who are equally committed to what sometimes feels like self-induced torture. My husband (that German guy) is among them and he’s even joined a band of “ocean-dippers” in Victoria, where he frequently travels for work.

Through reading and mostly online research, we learned that three minutes submerged is the magic number; it’s enough time to kickstart the purported health benefits. We stay in four minutes for good measure.

Do I like it? No. Will I continue to do it? Yes. And therein lies the complexity of doing something solely for the perceived health benefits. Cold water therapy is the cod liver oil of the previous generation. It’s terrible, but “they” say it’s good for you.

“They” are a growing number of performance coaches, recovery specialists and naturopaths. Chelsea Gronick is a Kelowna-based naturopathic doctor. She says modern science is starting to actively research and look more closely at cold water therapy; however, versions of hydrotherapy have been used for centuries to stimulate certain responses from the body.

“When the body is exposed to cold, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. That’s the fight-or-flight response. Hormones like adrenaline are released, the heart rate increases and blood vessels constrict forcing blood to your core,” she explains. “Once the body regulates it switches to a rest/relax/restore or parasympathetic nervous system. This training of your nervous system is a way to teach your body how to regulate when faced with various stressors, not just cold water but things that come up in daily life.”

The benefits have been shown to go well beyond improving stress tolerance. Cold water therapy can induce a stronger immune system response, increase metabolism, speed up weight loss (fat burning kicks in when shivering is induced), increase energy and improve sleep quality. It may even lower inflammation so the body can heal more quickly.

Dr. Gronick does have words of caution for those brave enough to explore cold water therapy. Go slow, she says: it’s important to gradually introduce cold water and increase your tolerance.

“A great starting point would be to end your showers at a temperature as cold as you can stand for 30 to 60 seconds. Practice good judgment and slowly work your way into this therapy to mitigate the potential risks.”

Risks can include hypothermia, hives and blistered skin if the water is extremely cold or if you stay in too long.

With mainstream science just starting to come around to the idea, one can really only go on how cold water makes you feel. My small group of dippers is flourishing with repeated exposure. All of us agree it is a weekly rejuvenation, and more and more people seem to be feeling the same way. We’re no longer the only ones at the beach, proving a winter swim is no longer reserved for those New Year’s Day polar bear dippers and hardcore northern Europeans in Speedos.

A cold water dip always comes with hoots and hollers from passersby, some snap photos and without fail someone always shouts, “How’s the water?”

The answer is obvious—it’s always cold (really cold) but there’s a kind of magic about it that’s making it one of the hottest wellness trends of 2021.

Will you be giving cold water therapy a try? Tag us in your cold water photos @boulevard_magazine

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

HealthHealth and wellnessLifestyleSwimming

Just Posted

Prince Charles Secondary School
School District 8 votes in favour of name change for Creston’s high school

In an act of reconciliation, a new name will be chosen for the former Prince Charles Secondary School

A new doctor has been recruited for the Creston Valley. (Pixabay)
New doctor recruited for the Creston Valley

Dr. Luke Turanich is expected to begin practice in late summer/early fall

Work has begun on the $10-million, 120-kilometre fibre-optic line from Playmor Junction to north of Nakusp. File photo
Work begins on Slocan Valley fibre-optic line

The $10-million, 120-kilometre fibre-optic line runs from Playmor Junction to north of Nakusp

A fawn found in Invermere. (BC Conservation Officer Service photo)
WildSafeBC advises on fawning season

Fawning season occurs from mid-May to June until the fawns become more independent of their mothers

Jade Osecki leading a Fridays for Future climate march in Nelson in 2020. Photo: Submitted
Nelson Grade 12 student Jade Osecki wins Suzy Hamilton Award

Carolyn Schramm was also honoured in this year’s environmental award for West Kootenay women

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

Most Read