If you follow me on social media, then unless you were hiding under a rock or taking a social media break, there is no way that you will have missed the various videos, images and updates of me screaming, shivering or occasionally smiling my way through my Cold Water Challenge in October.
So, what did the challenge entail, why did I do it and what did I learn during those 31 long days?!
This was a fundraiser that popped up in my feed sometime back in the hot and oppressive days of the summer, when the very idea that the river water might turn cold or that there might be days with constant rain and driving wind seemed utterly inconceivable.
The aim of the fundraiser for Surfers Against Sewage was simple: Raise money by taking a dip in cold water every day during October.
I care passionately about the seas and had been using the Surfers Against Sewage app during the summer months, to monitor where sewage was being released and which swimming spots were safe for us to visit to help us cool down during the summer, so it seemed a perfect cause for me.
So, I signed up and boldly (aka naively) proclaimed that I would set myself a minimum limit of 2 minutes each day, that I would not wear a wetsuit and that I would do as many of the swims/dips outside as possible.
Full disclosure: on 2 days I was super busy and simply didn’t have the time or energy to go outside, so took a VERY cold shower for 2 minutes instead and on 1 day I had a stonking headache so I did wear a wetsuit into the river (which I then had to spend about 5 minutes trying to wriggle out of using hands completely numb with cold and with the rain coming down sideways!).
Aside from raising money for a cause that I care so deeply about, I did also have another motive for signing up for this challenge.
I have heard many anecdotal reports about cold water swimming helping women with their menopause symptoms and have done some reading up about current scientific research that is underway to discover why and the ways in which it appears to help.
I also really enjoyed reading 'Wintering' by Katherine May which charts her journey using rest, retreat and cold-water swimming to get her through a hard period in her life.
I was already a fan of the cold shower after it helped me so much with my long covid recovery but despite loving the water and spending many hours swimming in warmer months, I have to admit that the thought of getting into the river or sea anytime between late September or mid March has simply not occurred to me before (and definitely not appealed!).
Day 1 of the month started easily enough on a warm relatively sunny day by the sea, where the water was a nice 17 degrees. I was with a friend and we ran straight in. It was cold, sure, but not absolutely freezing. Day 1 done and seemingly not too bad. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad…
Day 2 was the same beach, same water, same friend, very different weather! Driving rain, very grey and overcast with a bit of wind. But in we ran, albeit with a lot more screaming this time, and got it done.
Day 3 I was back at my house in Wiltshire and headed to the river for the first time expecting it to be the same temperature as the sea. That was my first mistake! The river was a full 6 degrees colder than the beach and felt absolutely freezing in comparison. It took me a few minutes before I could lower my shoulders under the water and I was out again on the dot of the 2 minute timer going off and not a second longer!
Day 4 and I tackled my old recycled water butt on my patio for the first time. Unable to move around to warm up, I had to dig deep to lower myself in. And it took every ounce of willpower to stay in and get it done.
And on and on it continued for 31 long days!
Some days it was absolutely pouring with rain, some days it was lovely and sunny. The temperature of the water dropped bit by bit and I think the coldest swim was just over 11 degrees.
So far, so hideous sounding, you might think?!
Well yes, some days were bloody hard but I very quickly began to feel the benefits.
Could there really be any actual benefits to feeling like you were freezing your tits off I hear you ask?!
My answer, 100% YES!
By the end of the challenge, I can safely say that I found 5 fabulous reasons that not only would I wholeheartedly recommend this for menopausing midlifers, but why I will definitely be continuing the habit…
Just not every day or in driving wind and rain!
5 reasons why cold-water dipping might be the magic ingredient to mastering your menopause
1. The ‘feeling’ you experience when you step out of the water
Within 1 week of starting the challenge, I began to look forward to the huge endorphin surge that came on getting out of the water. It is almost indescribable but it is probably one of the best natural ‘highs’ I have ever encountered in my life. Perhaps catching a good wave surfing or whizzing down a mountain on skis comes close, but this is a heady rush of pure happy hormones. The colder the water, the bigger the rush too!
2. The increase in good mood and surge in energy
Within 2 weeks of starting the challenge, I was full of energy and my mood was so good that my eldest daughter described me as being permanently tipsy from swimming. I bounded out of bed ready to take on the world and I think it was probably the week I did that mad crazy live video in the pouring rain in a shower cap. A good indicator of my positive, upbeat mood.
I also had a couple of moments during this week when I was able to relax enough in the water that I experienced moments of complete calmness and stillness, a sort of total surrender to blue water therapy in nature. A definite win for cold water.
3. The improved immunity and resilience to the usual winter cold
During the 3rd week of the challenge, everyone in the house came down with the first of the winter colds. It happens every year when the kids go back to school and we all felt pretty bad on the first day with very similar symptoms. This was when I decided to wear my wetsuit and not push myself to my limits. Yet within 36-48 hours I was back to myself without it ever having progressed past the first stage and despite being surrounded by sneezing, coughing, wheezing family members. It seems the cold water gave me a much-needed immunity boost!
4. Reduction of stress and improvement in sleep
For the first couple of weeks of the challenge I used to lie in bed thinking about the cold water and finding it hard to sleep for worrying about how much colder the water would get, whether I would ever get used to the cold (even though I was enjoying the feeling after the swim, getting in was still a struggle!) and just generally worrying. All of which affected my sleep.
But after 3 weeks or so my body finally adapted and the fear disappeared. It was still bloody cold but I could plunge in after a few seconds rather than minutes and I was able to control and calm my breathing much better. This led to me feeling much calmer and more relaxed in the water which then transcended into my sleep becoming deeper and more restorative.
The app on my phone started telling me that my body was in great form and I was ready to take on big challenges. I have had my phone for 2.5 years and it has barely ever hit the ‘GREAT’ spot on the readiness/wellness page. I also have a stress monitor app and since having covid and being in perimenopause, it seems to have told me that I am under stress more often than any other warning! And this is despite me prioritising sleep, yoga, diet, movement etc!
But after a month of cold-water swimming, the readings just went up and up and up. It was consistently in the GOOD or GREAT zone for stress levels, wellness, health etc. My body, my mind and my sleep were all benefitting towards the end of the challenge.
5. The sense of community and being part of a tribe like no other
When I took on this challenge, aside from the odd day, I assumed that I would largely be doing it alone. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how many wonderful women would come out to support me, get in the water with me, shout encouragement from the sidelines and open my eyes to all the benefits they feel by spending time in cold water.
We had so many giggles, first with nerves as we stripped off and faced the challenge of the cold water together and then a real sense of achievement and camaraderie as we shivered our way as quickly as possible through the process of getting out and warming up.
I often talk about the importance of having a tribe of likeminded women around you during perimenopause and this consolidated everything I love about it. A shared sense of fun, a great community, a warm feeling of support and friendship, a joining together to face our fears and a chance to take a moment away from it all at a time when it feels like so much in our lives is out of our control.
I will forever be indebted to each one of the people who spurred me on during this challenge, by sponsoring, by messaging, by bringing warm drinks to the waters edge and especially for those who braved the cold water with me.
So will I be continuing with the cold water dipping throughout the winter?!
Well with benefits like these I would like to say yes!
(But maybe ask me again once I have got through a Great British winter lol...!)
“Dance with the waves, move with the sea, let the rhythm of the water set your soul free”
Christy Ann Martine
If you would like access to a FREE 3 Day Series where I delve more deeply into ways to Breathe Well, Eat Well, Live Well, Move Well and Sleep Well then follow this link: