Menopausal women who regularly swim in cold water report significant improvements to their physical and mental symptoms such as anxiety, hot flushes, finds a new study.
The research, published in the journal Post Reproductive Health, surveyed 1,114 women, 785 of which were going through the menopause, to examine the effects of cold water swimming on their health and wellbeing.
Led by researchers from the University College London (UCL), the findings showed that menopausal women experienced a significant improvement in anxiety (as reported by 46.9 per cent of the women), mood swings (34.5 per cent), low mood (31.1 per cent) and hot flushes (30.3 per cent) as a result of cold water swimming.
In addition, a majority of women (63.3 per cent) 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 to aid athletes’ muscle repair and recovery,” said senior author Professor Joyce Harper from UCL’s EGA Institute for Women’s Health.
“Our study supports these claims, meanwhile the anecdotal evidence also highlights how the activity can be used by women to alleviate physical symptoms, such as hot flushes, aches and pains.
“More research still needs to be done into the frequency, duration, temperature and exposure needed to elicit a reduction in symptoms. However, we hope our findings may provide an alternative solution for women struggling with the menopause and encourage more women to take part in sports,” Harper added.
Alongside aiding menopausal symptoms, the women said their main motivations for cold water swimming were being outside, improving mental health and exercising.
“The majority of women swim to relieve symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings and hot flushes. They felt that their symptoms were helped by the physical and mental effects of the cold water, which was more pronounced when it was colder,” Harper said.
“Those that swam for longer had more pronounced effects. The great thing about cold water swimming is it gets people exercising in nature, and often with friends, which can build a great community.”
The researchers also wanted to investigate whether cold water swimming improved women’s menstrual symptoms.
Of the 711 women who experienced menstrual symptoms, nearly half said that cold water swimming improved their anxiety (46.7 per cent), and over a third said that it helped their mood swings (37.7 per cent) and irritability (37.6 per cent).
Yet despite the benefits of cold water swimming, the researchers were also keen to highlight that the sport comes with certain risks.
“Caution must be taken when cold water swimming, as participants could put themselves at risk of hypothermia, cold water shock, cardiac rhythm disturbances or even drowning,” Harper explained.
“Depending on where they are swimming, water quality standards may also vary. And, sadly, this can increase the likelihood of gastroenteritis and other infections.”