An ice-cold swim could have significant health benefits, according to a review, including reducing body fat and the risk of diseases like diabetes.
About 104 studies were examined by researchers, who found that many reported great health benefits from swimming in cold water, including good fat that helps burn calories.
This could help prevent obesity and cardiovascular disease, but the researchers said the overall health benefits were unclear.
The review indicated what appears to be a positive association between cold water swimming and brown adipose tissue (BAT).
BAT is a good body fat that is activated by the cold and burns calories to maintain body temperature.
It’s different from “bad” white fat that stores energy.
Repeated ice swimming could significantly increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin concentrations, the study found.
Researchers from UiT The Arctic University of Norway and from the University Hospital of Northern Norway completed the study, which is published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health.
Much of the available research involved small numbers of people, often of the same sex, and with different water temperatures and salt levels, the researchers said.
And it’s unclear whether winter swimmers are naturally healthier, she added.
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Lead author James Mercer, of UiT, said: “It is clear from this review that there is growing scientific support that voluntary exposure to cold water may have some beneficial health effects.
“Many of the studies have shown significant effects of cold water immersion on various physiological and biochemical parameters.
“But whether or not these are beneficial for health is difficult to estimate.
“Based on the results of this review, many of the health benefits claimed from regular cold exposure may not be causal.
“Instead, they can be explained by other factors, including an active lifestyle, trained stress management, social interactions and a positive attitude.
“Without further conclusive research, the topic will remain a subject of debate.”
The researchers warned that swimming in icy water also poses risks, such as hypothermia and heart and lung problems related to the shock of the temperature.