Cold Therapy – Is it for you?

  • The benefits of being extremely cold
  • How to improve your circulation, reduce swelling, activate your nervous system and boost your immunity
  • The dangers of trying this trendy therapy

On New Year’s Day I got a Whatsapp message from an old university friend.

“Off for a swim,” he wrote. “In the reservoir.”

Now, Jim used to be a bit of a party animal.

Right up until a few years ago, he was overweight and could knock back an astonishing amount of beer in an evening.

Then one New Year’s Eve he resolved to quit drinking for a month.

That month became two months… then three, then four…

He’s now been sober for two years.

And he’s happier for it, he says. He has lost weight, feels more focussed and less anxious.


He’s one of those people who craves highs and if he couldn’t get a kick from alcohol, he needed to seek it somewhere else.

And he found it through cold water swimming.

There’s a reservoir near him in London that allows for icy cold swims of between one hundred and four hundred metres, with a safety team in case of any problems.

For Jim, it’s all about that thrill of the cold and he loves it.

He jumps into the sea, too, whenever he gets the chance.

And – ever the evangelist – he tried to get me into it, too.

Early last spring, we met up in Margate on a chilly day and he introduced me to the delights of a sea swim.

But afterwards he complained it was slightly too warm for him to get a proper thrill from it.

I didn’t know what to say to him as I was bloomin’ freezing and my teeth were chattering in the wind.

Anyway, each to their own!

And in terms of natural health, Jim is actually bang on-trend, because hot and cold therapy is growing in popularity.

How to heal yourself with the cold

You might have seen Wim Hof on the telly – he’s the Dutch motivational guru famed for plunging himself into extremely cold water.

He once held a Guinness World Record for swimming under ice.

Anyway, in his TV show, Freeze the Fear, he introduced celebrities to his form of extreme cold therapy.

So I think this might be one of the factors behind the surge in interest.

I was reading an article in The Metro this week about how social media mentions for “cold therapies” was up by 38% over the past year and how it’s predicted to be one of the big trends in natural health for 2023.

It’s becoming popular because cold water therapy has so many reported benefits;

  • Advocates say it helps:
  • improve circulation
  • reduce swelling and pain
  • activate your nervous system
  • boost your immune system
  • lower your cholesterol
  • flood your brain with endorphins that make you feel happier

And, as Jim has found, it can help replace those urges for alcohol, food or cigarettes.

That’s quite a number of benefits for an array of health problems and challenges.

So it could be worth trying.

You don’t have to swim in a reservoir either – there are much safer, simpler alternatives like plunge pools, cold showers and ice baths.

To get a therapeutic effect, you need to be immersed in water less than 15°C.

However, before you go running off to the nearest lake in your underwear…

A few words of warning…

The dangers of taking the plunge

You need to take this slowly and make sure you are safe.

Don’t immediately assume that you’re Wim Hof!

For some people, immersion in icy water can cause ‘cold water shock’, which can stop your heart and stop your breathing too.

There is also a risk, naturally, of hypothermia.

So the key is to take baby steps. You could start by having a 30 second blast of cold water in the shower each day, then gradually extend the time as you become more resilient.

If you have a health condition like asthma or heart disease, I’d recommend talking to a GP first.

For a more controlled experience, seek out a place that offers it as a service, with experts who can guide you.

Certainly, if you’re going to try the sea, a lake or a reservoir, make sure it’s a supervised session!

When you finish your swim or plunge, make sure you get warm properly – that means getting the wet swimwear off, drying properly, and then building up some layers of clothing.

Experts warn against jumping immediately into a hot bath or shower.

Finally, if you do try it and hate it, that’s fine – even staunch advocates of cold water therapy will admit that it’s not for everyone.

As for me – I like to give myself a blast of cold water in the shower for a minute, every now and then, whenever I’m feeling brave.

But I think I’ll give the reservoir a miss.