Talis Tobreluts: Regular immersion in cold water wards off stress and has positive effects on health

University of Tartu alumni Talis Tobreluts.

Even though I now work as a personal trainer and lifestyle coach, I have spent most of my life sitting at school or behind an office desk and experienced all the possible downsides of this lifestyle. It has resulted in a variety of health problems, including quite a significant weight gain. In summer 2019, after another viral infection accompanied by an acutely sore throat and runny nose, I decided – enough of this! I have coped with everything in my life, so why I have to suffer now such regular discomfort!

Winter swimming keeps the body and mind healthy

I was advised to start taking cold showers to boost immunity. Well, it didn’t feel at all good to have a weak stream of cold water running down my body! This was not a solution! I had to find a new one and followed the logic that if a weak water stream is not the answer, a full body immersion in cold water must be!

This is what happened and since August I started swimming in all kinds of places – bog lakes, rivers, seas. And I have done it regularly for over two years now, at least 2–3 times a week. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, hailing, snowing, or if it’s +30 or -15 degrees outside – I am always in the water. And I haven’t had a cold since!

I have managed to inflict the majority of the people who come to me for personal counselling and training with this highly positive addiction. For the second season in a row, we have organised regular joint winter swimming sessions every Saturday. Those who want more, can go for a cold water swim on their own.

Image credit: private collection

Cold water swimming helps you make exciting new friends

In the middle of October this year, I was swimming in the sea behind the Tallinn City Hall when a group of people swam towards me from the north. I shouted, “Are you coming from Finland?” Let it be known that Helsinki was 88 kilometres away from this point. A man with curly hair replied, “No, from California!” To which I replied, “It must have been a long journey then”.

Such friendly banter is common among winter swimmers. Turns out the guy was a real estate agent Nathaniel from California, who was in Estonia on vacation. So why not test the 12-degree water of the Baltic Sea!? Nathaniel described winter swimmers as people who are as if constantly high. “Everybody is friendly and smiling,” was his comment.

winter swimmers
Image credit: private collection

In fact, this also has a scientific explanation. In addition to other positive health benefits, winter swimming even has antidepressant effect. This also explains why people are friendly and smiling. It’s because cold water relieves stress!

Figure source: MDPI

If you want to do your own research on the effects of cold water, see an article published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Tips to start boosting your health with cold water immersion

❄️ 1. Find someone to share the experience with. We are braver together.

❄️ 2. Get in the water straight away. The more you start thinking about how cold or wet the water might be, the more uncomfortable it gets.

❄️ 3. Compete only against yourself. If someone has been in the water longer than you and feels comfortable, let them continue. You need to listen to your body.

❄️ 4. Gradually adapt your body to cold water. Cold water is a stressor for the body. So is running or weight training. That is why it’s important to gradually train your body to withstand cold. For example, stay in the water for 5 seconds on your first swim, and later you can stay for 15, 30 and 60 seconds.

❄️ 5. Dress warmly. Immersing yourself in cold water moderately does not make you ill, quite the contrary, but you’ll very likely catch a cold when staying outside in the wind when your body is wet. This is why it is advisable to carefully dry your feet, hands and hair and put on warm clothes.

Media loves winter swimming

When I started regular cold water swimming in autumn 2019, it was not yet so popular. But the number of winter swimmers made a visible leap during the first wave of the coronavirus early last year.

Also, at the end of last year, an unofficial world record in winter swimming was set when 505 cold-water enthusiasts swam for 4 hours, 48 minutes and 3 seconds in a row. A photo of me swimming in a Christmas hat even made it to the Reuters top 5 pictures.

Screenshot by author

The hobby soon became so popular that the most popular Estonian TV show Pealtnägija covered it in a special story featuring the greatest Estonian star and beloved singer Anne Veski.

Joking aside, I have mostly exploited media’s interest in the phenomenon of winter swimming to share important health-related messages. My activities have been covered by all major Estonian media channels. Last November, during the Men’s Health Awareness Month, I climbed into a children’s pool filled with cold water in Vabaduse Square in Tallinn to raise awareness about men’s health.

A year later, again in November, I stepped out of my comfort zone by wearing a ballet tutu in public and jumping into freezing sea water. The idea was to inspire other men to come out of their comfort zone and put on aprons to start cooking themselves healthy meals and trainers to improve their health.

Winter swimming is exciting

As you can see, winter swimming is by no means an activity that lets you fall into a dull routine. For example, I have taken part in the Estonian tournament of winter checkers, where the idea is to capture as many pieces of your opponent as possible in 2 minutes while being immersed in 2-degree water.

In addition, every year winter swimming championships are held, entailing a 4 x 25m swimming relay for charity. While in the past the participation fees have been used to support seals at Tallinn Zoo and dog shelters, this year the money will be used to support youth sports. This financial support is much needed, as 33% of children in Estonia are overweight, which leads to psychological and other health problems.

This year, the winter swimming festival Iceswim will take place on 10–12 December in the Port of Tallinn.

Allow yourself to be drawn in!

I’m offering a free introductory winter swimming class in Tartu, on Anne Canal on Saturday, December 4, at 15:00.

If you also wish to immerse yourself in this psychological and physical health-boosting activity register your participation via email: treener@talis.ee, Instagram DM or call +372 53313172 before midnight on Friday, December 3.

Meet you in the water! 🌊 🌊

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