WARNING: Always be safe when you swim and know your limits. Common sense and prudence are required when dealing with cold temperatures.
I have had an interest in the benefits of cold training since I began studying Tummo yoga about 10 years ago. Following are benefits of cold training I regard the most.
Lower Pulse Rate for Meditational Purposes
This reason alone is my personal motivation for cold training. Guinness Record Holder Wim Hof, the “Iceman”, says that cold water training fosters a lower pulse rate. I have noticed a BPM drop of about one BPM per month of practice. My cold training mainly involves five minute cold showers. I have used cold swimming when available but by my personal records, this is negligible in my practice. I don’t even do ice baths. It is interesting to note that my emWave (a small handheld device which measures galvanic skin response, or GSR) records have improved. I have used a GSR device for meditational feedback for over a decade.
There is an ancient saying that meditation work is done on the exhale or after the exhale. Suffice to say that if this saying has any merit (test using any GSR device widely available online), then a slower breath rate has meditational benefits that need not be ignored.
For a Stronger Immune System.
Findings are beginning to suggest that cold water training will increase your resistance to viruses. (Note the anti-flame wording in that last sentence). The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research concluded cold weather training reduces likelihood of catching the flu by 20 to 30%.
In a study conducted in the Czech Republic, test subjects who repeatedly did cold water dips were found to have a higher white blood cell count. The Czech scientists concluded that the cold water acts as a “mild stressor” which activates the immune system.
On a similar note, Wim Hof was injected with an endotoxin which causes a reaction of temporary severe sickness symptoms in subjects. He was unaffected except for a brief slight headache which passed when he resumed his meditation (interviewers and scientists were present). He attributes his superman immunity to cold water/weather training combined with meditation.
For fun. And if you are an assassin, it can be useful
I personally affirm that the habitual practice of cold water training can become addictive. Dopamine and serotonin–happy hormones– are released as the parasympathetic system is “awakened”. Serotonin helps to regulate a healthy sleep cycle as well. The “James Bond shower” which starts warm and ends cold as it is in Fleming’s series, might just be the answer to help you sleep better even if you just whacked someone.
Just don’t get too addicted to it. Jill Peck Vona was a cold water addict who sells her story about her experience on this. Any activity which involves the release of dopamine and serotonin into the blood stream potentially falls into this category. In my personal experience, the good feeling is not the initial step into a pure cold shower, ice bath, or cold ocean. Instead it happens after several seconds have passed. Then it gets increasingly better. This article does not scope tips on training but I will say that I think the initial unpleasant plunge into the cold can be avoided making the entire process likable.
Many would praise other reasons such as to lose weight or cut muscle. More testing may be needed in this area to get that badge of “conclusive”. Others swear of skin and hair benefits from cold water training. Try it gradually and see for yourself if you benefit. We are conditioned to avoid the cold and not view it as a friend. I suspect most people would not find a cold dip initially fun …but their immediate reaction may well be a loud bark announcing they are alive and kickin’.