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 7:30 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

A concept rendering of the proposed seven-unit, two-storey development at 1129 Riverside Ave. in Sicamous. (District of Sicamous graphic)
Proposed luxury development in Sicamous sparks parking concerns

Seven-unit commercial-residential building planned for Riverside Avenue

Shuswap Litas and Sons of Stomp head out from uptown Askew’s parking lot on Thursday, June 10, some with teddy bears and stuffies, to ride to Pierre’s Point by Adams Lake community hall to show their support for band members in the wake of the confirmation of 215 children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap bike clubs ride to support Indigenous communities

Motorcyclists go to Pierre’s Point in solidarity with bands in wake of residential school findings

The Shaw Centre and the SASCU Recreation Centre are the two largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions on City of Salmon Arm properties. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
City of Salmon staff surprised COVID not cause of drop in greenhouse gas emissions

2020 sees emissions on city-owned properties decrease well below 2019 totals

Interior Health is offering mobile vaccination clinics for the first dose only of COVID-19 vaccine in the Shuswap from June 15 to June 19h. (Interior Health image)
First-dose vaccinations for COVID-19 offered via mobile clinics in Shuswap

Clinic in Salmon Arm scheduled for June 15, other clinics in Sorrento, Malakwa, Chase

The price per litre of regular gasoline was at 145.9 cents at several gas stations in downtown Salmon Arm on June 11, 2021. (Zachary Roman - Salmon Arm Observer)
Gas prices pumped up in Salmon Arm and Sicamous

Price spikes from 131.9 to as high as 145.9 cents per litre

Dr. Albert de Villiers, chief medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a summary of this week’s biggest stories from the Okanagan-Shuswap

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Naramata community in shock as condolences pour in for homicide victim Kathy Richardson

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Princeton GSAR responds 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 2020 the crew was called out 34 times, and members spent 721 hours on calls, and 683 hours training. Photo Princeton GSAR Facebook
Teen missing in Manning Park found after 24 hours

Young man spends night on mountain and survives with just a few scrapes

The RCMP are asking for assistance regarding the death of Kathleen Richardson of Naramata, pictured here. Her death is believed to be related to two homicides in Naramata in May. (RCMP)
Police identify South Okanagan homicide victim as 57-year-old Naramata woman

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday

Two e-scooters parked on the sidewalk along Water Street in downtown Kelowna on Monday, May 3. Scooters parked on walkways are causing accessibility issues for some people with disabilities. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Kelowna General Hospital clinicians observe increase in e-scooter injuries

A report is set to go to city council next week on how the e-scooter pilot has gone thus far

Fair-goers take a ride at the 120th annual Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede Aug. 28-Sept. 1, 2019. (Katherine Peters - Morning Star)
Armstrong’s IPE not eligible for COVID-19 grant designed for major attractions

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo criticized the rigidity of the provincial program’s criteria

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Most Read