How to: Cold Water Swimming
Blue Health has been trending for a few years now – people living in cold climes are well versed in the benefits of ice baths but here in the UK we’re not such fans of heat extremes. However, open water swimming is gaining in popularity and with it, the health claims of cold water immersion. There are a few things to be aware of when subjecting your body to such things, though. Even if you are fit and healthy*, there are optimal ways to go about cold dips to avoid ill effects.
*(always consult your doctor before trying new activities)
Have you heard of Afterdrop?
What is Afterdrop?
When you submerge yourself in cold water, there’s only so long you feel you can stay in before the effects become too much too bear – numbness, pain and breathlessness, these are all immediate reactions to the cold. So you get out of the water when you think your body can’t take anymore – but did you know, it’s best not to wait that long and instead get out before you reach your limit?
That’s because of Afterdrop.
Afterdrop is the continued drop in temperature of your body’s core temperature for up to an hour after immersion, even if the rest of your body seems to be heating up!
Why does Afterdrop happen?
The blood in circulation to your extremities is restricted, leaving your skin cold to touch when you’ve been exposed to lower temperatures. Your outer layer of flesh acts a bit like a natural wetsuit, keeping your inners warm and allowing you to think you can stay in longer but once you get out, your cold extremities continue to cool down your core and it’s this conductive cooling that can lead to Afterdrop.
What are the symptoms of Afterdrop?
- Violent shivering
- Feeling faint
- Hypothermia (see below)
The symptoms are much more severe when the body has been cooled and warmed up too quickly.
Will I get Afterdrop?
It is surprisingly common after cold water swimming, which is why it’s important to be safe and supervised, even if you’re a seasoned winter swimmer. Anyone can get out feeling fine and a few minutes later start to feel unwell. But follow these steps to enjoying cold water swimming safely and you should be fine to enjoy all the benefits of ‘Blue Health’:
How to avoid Afterdrop
- Get dry
- Get changed
- Get inside
- Sip a warm (not hot!) drink
- Eat a sugary snack
- Gently walk around
- Give yourself time to recover
- Hot showers
- Immediate exercise
- Immediate driving
- Being alone
- Fingers and lips turning blue
- Losing strength in hands and feet
- Core body temp drops below 35°C
- Skin in cold to touch
- Feeling tired or confused
- Slow and shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Shivering stops
- Moved to a sheltered location out of the wind
- Remove and replace wet clothing
- Add layers of clothing or blankets
- Give them a warm, not hot, drink
- Monitor their condition
Things to Avoid
- Direct Heat: hot showers, radiators, hot water bottles
- Friction: rubbing limbs or hands
- Hot drinks