Yes, I’m a cold water swimmer. Here’s why

In winter it is too hard to dive straight into the sea from the rocks.

The split-second full body immersion that is required to launch myself from the rock wall into the green depths below is simply beyond me. Instead, my two sisters and I enter the water from the beach and get to experience the slow absorption method of death by one thousand cuts as the ice-cold swell slowly laps over our toes to our ankles to our calves to our knees to our thighs to our fannies to our waists to our boobs, at which point we plunge and gasp and shriek and swear. The fanny is the worst part. Or maybe the hands.

And then we breaststroke out to the first pole. Panting little puffs of cloudy air as we focus on pushing through bone chilling pain, we circle the pole and breaststroke back.

It is exactly 123 strokes out to that pole and 123 strokes back. On a sub 8 degree morning, the first 50 strokes are agony and I cannot speak. I am completely in my mind controlling my fight or flight instinct. I count every single stroke. For the last 80 strokes, exhilaration takes over and I am as high as a kite. My body sometimes starts to think that it is hot. 

Waiting for winter

In summer things are very different. We dive into the water from the rocks and swim to the second pole. The water is warmer and we stay in longer. It always amazes me how I long for winter and how I can’t wait for the temperature to plunge to take my breath away. 

I know I am slightly mad, but I love it. And so, before I jump into some of the benefits I have experienced from cold water swimming – here is a general disclaimer. Every article you read about cold water swimming comes with a health warning that there are risks and more research needs to be done too gauge actual benefits. In my view, don’t do it if you don’t want to. Don’t do it without a health check-up first. Don’t start in winter because it could very well kill you. Don’t stay in the water too long because it could very well kill you. Don’t swim on your own because it could very well kill you. Don’t swim in shark infested waters because … etc, etc. You are all adults. 

On Christmas Day 2021, as part of my Life List of goals for how I plan to live my life very differently as a midlife woman, I set myself the goal to swim every single day for 12 months. Over the course of that first year, I swam about 330 of the 365 days. Two-and-a-half years later – I am still swimming. 

Here’s why

  1. The mythical cold-water swimmers high is very real for me. Every morning I exit the water feeling exhilarated, thrilled, unbeatable and with an enormous sense of pride that I have conquered another swim.
  1. Swimming sets me up for a successful day. Prior to swimming I was adamant that I was not, and never could be, a morning person. But I now wake each day without an alarm at around 6.30am. And while I in no way, shape or form bounce out of bed full of joy at the possibilities the day presents, I actually do get up, grab my bathers and enter the water before 7.30am. This gets me to my work desk by around 8.15am and I power through a morning of work. Maybe it’s the routine, maybe it’s the discipline, maybe it’s the cold water, or maybe it’s a combination of all three. Regardless, it works for me.
  1. I have lived in Williamstown almost my whole life, and yet I now have a new community of swimming mates – people I would never have otherwise met. Most mornings I get to see Michael and Ted and we love pooh-poohing the ‘fair weather swimmers’ who don’t turn up on the 2 degree mornings. I get to wave to Kurt as he paddleboards alongside his wife Liz who swims to the second pole – even in winter. I get to say hi to the huge gang of girls who swim as a pack filled with joyful laughter. This new sense of community is lovely. 
  1. I have suffered from lower back pain, including a temperamental bulging disc that used to flare up a few times a year since carrying and giving birth to three gigantic children 20 years ago. Since regularly swimming my periodic back pain has almost completely disappeared. 
  1. Swimming seems to completely rewire my brain. There have been many mornings when one of my sisters or I enter the water feeling overwhelmed by whatever is going on in our lives. And every single day the shock of the cold water and the joy of swimming with each other completely lifts our mood. A 2024 study of over 1000 women published in Post Reproductive Health backs this up with some incredible data around the mood improving effects of cold water swimming, including 47 per cent of the perimenopausal women participants reporting that cold water swimming resulted in an improvement in their anxiety. 

For me, cold water swimming has changed my life. I am officially an addict. 

Do you enjoy swimming? What about cold water swimming? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: How this Australian favourite could transform your health

Kate Christie
Kate Christie
Kate is the best selling author of 5 books including 'The Life List'. She is a time management and goal setting expert, global speaker, corporate advisor and coach. With a passion for helping you master the time you have to live the life you want, Kate writes about travel, health and wellbeing, productivity, navigating the highs and lows of midlife, and how to ensure you live your absolute best life - right now.
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