Menopausal women who regularly swim in cold water report significant improvements in physical and emotional symptoms such as anxiety, hot flushes, a new study shows.
The study, published in the journal Postreproductive Health, surveyed 1,114 women, 785 of whom were going through menopause, to examine the effects of cold water swimming on their health and well-being.
Led by researchers from University College London (UCL), the results showed that menopausal women experienced a significant improvement in anxiety (reported by 46.9 percent of women), mood swings (34.5 percent), low mood (31.1 percent) and cold water swimming. resulting in hot flushes (30.3 percent).
Also, most women (63.3 percent) swam specifically to relieve their symptoms.
“Cold water has previously been found to improve mood and reduce stress in outdoor swimmers, and ice baths have long been used for muscle repair and recovery in athletes,” said senior author Professor Joyce Harper of UCL’s EGA Institute for Women’s Health.
“Our study supports these claims, while also highlighting anecdotal evidence of how women can use the activity to relieve physical symptoms such as hot flushes, aches and pains.
“Further research is needed on the frequency, duration, temperature and exposure needed to reduce symptoms. However, we hope that our findings can provide an alternative solution for women struggling with menopause and encourage more women to participate in sports, ” added Harper.
In addition to helping with menopausal symptoms, the women said their main motivations for swimming in the cold water were to get outside, improve mental health and exercise.
“Most women swim to relieve symptoms like anxiety, mood swings and hot flushes. They felt their symptoms were helped by the physical and psychological effects of the cold water, which is more pronounced when it’s cold,” Harper said.
“Those who swam longer had a more pronounced effect. The great thing about cold water swimming is that it gets people exercising in nature and often with friends, which can create a great community.”
The researchers also wanted to investigate whether cold water swimming improves menstrual symptoms in women.
Of the 711 women who experienced menstrual symptoms, nearly half said cold water swimming improved their anxiety (46.7 percent), and more than a third said it helped with mood swings (37.7 percent) and irritability (37.6 percent).
Yet despite the benefits of cold water swimming, researchers were keen to highlight that the sport comes with certain risks.
“Caution should be taken when swimming in cold water, as participants may be at risk of hypothermia, cold water shock, cardiac rhythm disturbances or even drowning,” Harper explained.
“Depending on where they are swimming, water quality standards can also vary. And, unfortunately, it can increase the chance of gastroenteritis and other infections.”