The Menopause

The cold cure: why water therapy can bring relief to menopause symptoms

Cold water swimming has surged in popularity in recent years, captivating both our need to seek solace and connect with nature. In fact, an estimated one million people were regular outdoor swimmers in the UK in 2022. What’s more, the government has just announced that dozens of new wild swimming spots are being designated as bathing waters ahead of summer.

But it’s not just seasoned members of the cold-water club that can reap the refreshing rewards.

Women navigating the ebb and flow of menopause could also find that wild swimming has a profound effect on their symptoms. A recent study, led by academics at University College London, found that spending time immersed in cold water could be ‘healing’ for menopausal women.

Cold water and menopause – what’s the link?

The study’s leading author, Professor Joyce Harper, says: “Across the world you will find many women who love cold water swimming. This was the first study in the world to suggest a link between cold water swimming and the relief of menstrual and menopause symptoms.

“We asked women to tell us what they thought and they said cold water swimming definitely helped them with many symptoms.”

According to Joyce, the participants felt the main benefits were due to the effects of the cold water.

“There are many studies that show that exercising, being outside and being with friends is good for our health,” she says. “With cold water swimming added in, it is not surprising that we see even more health benefits.”

Can it replace HRT?

GP and menopause specialist Dr Louise Newson explains that the first line of treatment for menopause should be hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but many women, whether menopausal or not, find cold water swimming beneficial, especially for their mental health.

“It’s really important to take a holistic approach to perimenopause and menopause,” she says. “This includes hormones, regular exercise, a balanced diet, prioritising sleep and reducing stress.”

According to Louise, wild swimming is a pastime popular with perimenopausal and menopausal women.

A 2020 survey in Outdoor Swimmer magazine revealed 87% of swimmers were aged over 40 and 65% of swimmers were women,” she says.

But, as Joyce explains, it’s essential that we take any swim at our own pace.

“Swim your own swim,” she says. “We are all very different and have different needs. Now is a great time to start as the water is heating up.”

And let’s be honest, the idea of a cold dip is easier to entertain in summer!

Where to begin with cold water therapy

Ready to take the plunge? Here’s how to get started…

Where can we start if we don’t have a lake nearby?

No lake? No problem!

“There are still plenty of ways to incorporate cold water therapy into your routine, especially for those exploring its benefits for managing symptoms such as hot flushes,” Louise says. “You can try using a bathtub or a large basin filled with cold water with ice at home.

“Start by gradually adjusting to colder temperatures and aim for shorter sessions initially to allow your body to acclimate. It’s important to prioritise safety and listen to your body’s cues throughout the process.”

Can cold showers offer the same benefits as swimming?

“Yes, cold showers can offer similar benefits to swimming but on a smaller scale,” Louise explains. “Both cold water immersion and swimming can help improve your mood and also physical health – so can promote an overall mindful and relaxed experience.

“While swimming provides a more immersive experience and overall physical activity, cold showers can still trigger the body’s response to cold, offering some relief. I run the cold tap at the end of my showers each morning and over the past few months, the time I spend under a cold shower has gradually increased!”

What are the benefits?

“Improved mental health and mindfulness; great benefits to your blood pressure and lymphatics; improved ability to adapt to stressful situations; improved immune function and reduced inflammation,” Louise tells us. “Being immersed in cold water can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us to remain calm and reduces stress levels.”

How often do we need to do it?

According to Louise, the frequency usually varies depending on individual preferences and tolerance levels, so starting slow is advisable.

“I would say starting with one session each week and gradually increasing frequency as your body adjusts is a good approach,” she explains. “Aiming for consistency rather than intensity is key. Even brief, regular exposures to cold water can yield positive results over time.”

How can this work alongside HRT to support a healthy menopause?

Louise claims that cold water therapy may help alleviate symptoms such as hot flushes and mood swings, whereas taking HRT addresses hormonal imbalances and treats the underlying cause. However, there are benefits of cold water therapy regardless of whether a woman takes HRT or not.

“Menopause is a long-term hormone deficiency,” she says. “The first-line treatment is replacing those missing hormones with the right dose and type of HRT, often with testosterone, too.

“Many women, whether menopausal or not, find cold water swimming beneficial, especially for their mental health.”

Words: Holly Treacy

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