Cold-water swimming eases menopause and menstrual symptoms, study finds | Health

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Swimming in cold water can significantly reduce symptoms of the menopause such as mood swings and hot flushes, a study has found.

Spending time immersed in cold water appears to confer a range of physical and mental health benefits for menopausal women, with some likening it to “healing”, the researchers said.

The study, led by academics at University College London, examined responses from 1,114 women aged between 16 and 80, with an average age of 49, who regularly swim in cold water. Among the study group, 785 women were going through the menopause at the time.

Half of that group said cold-water swimming significantly reduced their anxiety, while large minorities said it also helped tackle mood swings (35%), low mood (31%) and hot flushes (30%). And more than six in 10 (63%) said they swam specifically to address menopausal symptoms.

One 54-year-old woman who took part in the study said: “Cold-water swimming has had a profound effect on my menopausal symptoms. Exercising in nature, alone or with a group of other women, is healing. The camaraderie, shared stories and laughter are part of the magic.”

The findings have been published in the journal Post Reproductive Health. Cold water has already been found to reduce stress among people who swim outdoors, while ice baths boost muscle repair in athletes, said the study’s senior author Prof Joyce Harper, of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson institute for women’s health at UCL.

Although anecdotal, the evidence in the study suggests that “the activity can be used by women to alleviate physical symptoms, such as hot flushes, aches and pains,” the researchers said.

The effects of cold-water swimming were so marked that it “may provide an alternative solution for women struggling with the menopause and encourage more women to take part in sports.”

Another participant, 57, said: “Cold water is phenomenal. It has saved my life. In the water I can do anything. All symptoms (physical and mental) disappear and I feel like me at my best.”

The longer women swam for, and the colder the water, the greater the benefits they received.

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Of the 1,114 participants, 711 women also had menstrual symptoms. Among them, 38% cited better control of their mood swings.

Regular cold-water swimmers who had either menopausal or menstrual symptoms experienced “a positive overall effect” from it, the study found. They identified five key benefits: the water proved calm and mood-boosting; they gained companionship and community; it improved their experience of periods; reduced the impact of their hot flushes; and gave “an overall health improvement”.

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