Taking a Dip in Cold Water May Cut “Bad” Body Fat

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A review of current science indicates that an icy swim may cut ‘bad’ body fat, but further health benefits are unclear.

Taking a dip in cold water may cut ‘bad’ body fat in men and decrease the risk of disorders such as diabetes. These are the findings suggested by a major scientific review published on September 22 in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, a peer-reviewed journal.

According to the authors, many of the 104 studies they analyzed demonstrated significant effects from cold water swimming including also on brown fat, also known as ‘good’ fat, which helps burn calories. They say that this may protect against obesity and cardiovascular disease.

However, the review was inconclusive overall on the health benefits of cold-water bathing, an increasingly popular hobby.

Much of the available research involved small numbers of participants, often of just one gender, and with differences in water temperature and salt composition. Additionally, it is unclear whether or not winter swimmers are naturally healthier, say the scientific expert team of review authors from UiT The Arctic University of Norway and from the University Hospital of North Norway.

“From this review, it is clear that there is increasing scientific support that voluntary exposure to cold water may have some beneficial health effects,” states lead author James Mercer, from UiT.

Weight loss, increased libido, and improved mental health are among numerous health and well-being claims made by followers of regular cold-water immersion or arising from anecdotal cases.

Cold exposure appears to also increase the production of the hormone adiponectin by adipose tissue. This protein plays a key role in protecting against insulin resistance, diabetes, and other diseases.

This activity is the subject of growing interest worldwide and takes many forms such as swimming in cold water during the winter.

Immersion in cold water has a significant impact on the body and triggers a shock response that includes an elevated heart rate.

Evidence that cardiovascular risk factors are actually improved in swimmers who have adapted to the cold was provided by some studies. However, other research suggests the workload on the heart is still increased.

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