December 26, 2022 2 min read

 

 



In a review of multiple scientific papers, researchers from Norway say there’s evidence that an icy swim may increase ‘good’ body fat and reduce the risk of diabetes.


The review, published in theInternational Journal of Circumpolar Health*, analysed 104 studies looking at the health benefits of cold water swimming, paying attention to sample size and other limitations.

Themes covered by studies that were eligible for review included inflammation, adipose tissue, blood circulation, immune system and oxidative stress. Some of these provided evidence that cardiovascular risk factors are improved in swimmers who have adapted to the cold. Yet others suggest the workload on the heart is still increased.

The authors did, however, highlight the positive links between cold water swimming and brown adipose tissue (BAT), a type of ‘good’ body fat that’s activated by cold.

BAT burns calories to maintain body temperature unlike ‘bad’ white fat which stores energy.

Experts, however, are warning that CWI carries a great risk if not done responsibly. For warm-blooded mammals like humans, it can potentially lead to respiratory, cardiovascular and, possibly, peripheral neurovascular injury. ‘Cold shock’, the most dangerous response, is caused by a rapid fall in skin temperature and includes gasping, hyperventilation, release of stress hormones, hypertension and arrhythmias.

A scientific paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine* in September, outlines how to mitigate risks associated with CWI. These include taking a medical assessment before entering cold water, nominating a safety observer and entering the water slowly and gradually.

According to the review, cold exposure in water – or air – appears also to increase the production of adiponectin, a protein which plays a key role in protecting against insulin resistance, diabetes and other diseases. 

 

A scientific paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine* in September, outlines how to mitigate risks associated with CWI. These include taking a medical assessment before entering cold water, nominating a safety observer and entering the water slowly and gradually.

Michael Tipton, a professor of sport science at the University of Portsmouth, UK, co-led the study. He says: “This is a challenge that should not be undertaken casually; CWI is a major cause of accidental death internationally, but it is possible to reduce the risks to an extent.”

He’s hopeful the paper will act as a safety guide. But what specific advice does he and other experts have for spa and wellness operators? And what precautions are they already taking?

* Source: Tipton M, Massey H, Mayhew A, et al. Cold water therapies: minimising risks. British Journal of Sports Medicine. September 2022

 


In conclusion, the researchers said that more evidence was needed to identify risks associated with cold water immersion.

 


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