Cold water swimming could help alleviate the physical and mental syptoms of menopause, a new study has found.

Hot flushes, anxiety and mood swings could be beneficial, it found. In fact, those who swam for longer intervals or swam more regularly reported greater benefits.

The survey of 1,114 women who regularly swam in cold water was conducted by academics from University College London (UCL). The age range spanned from 16 to 80, with most women aged between 45 and 59.

The 785 menopausal women in the group reported symptoms such as anxiety, poor concentration, hot flushes and night sweats. Some 46.9% said cold water swimming helped their anxiety, while 34.5% said their mood swings had lessened.

A fifth reported a reduction in night sweats, while 31.1% said hot flushes had reduced. Some 711 women reported menstrual symptoms such as tiredness, anxiety, mood swings, trouble sleeping and irritability.

Almost half (46.7%) said they believe the activity had improved their anxiety, along with 37.7% who reported a reduction in mood swings. Improved sleeping was reported by 21% of the women, while irritability was reduced in 37.6%.

Researchers said swimming habits “varied overall” among the women, but those who swam more regularly or for longer periods of time were more likely to report a reduction in symptoms. They added: “Teaching women to swim safely and encouraging them to swim regularly may have a benefit on the debilitating symptoms associated with the perimenopause.”

Among those who reported a reduction in one or more symptoms said they swim specifically to help alleviate them. One 57-year-old woman who completed the survey said cold water is “phenomenal”.

“It has saved my life,” she added. “In the water, I can do anything. All symptoms (physical and mental) disappear and I feel like me at my best.”

Senior author Professor Joyce Harper, of the UCL EGA Institute for Women’s Health, said the findings, published in Post Reproductive Health, support claims about cold water swimming. She said: “Cold water has previously been found to improve mood and reduce stress in outdoor swimmers, and ice baths have long been used to aid athletes’ muscle repair and recovery.

“Our study supports these claims, meanwhile the anecdotal evidence also highlights how the activity can be used by women to alleviate physical symptoms, such as hot flushes, aches and pains.

“More research still needs to be done into the frequency, duration, temperature and exposure needed to elicit a reduction in symptoms.

“However, we hope our findings may provide an alternative solution for women struggling with the menopause and encourage more women to take part in sports.”

However, Prof Harper urged caution when cold water swimming, adding: “Participants could put themselves at risk of hypothermia, cold water shock, cardiac rhythm disturbances or even drowning.

“Depending on where they are swimming, water quality standards may also vary. Raw sewage pollution is an increasingly common concern in UK rivers and seas. And, sadly, this can increase the likelihood of gastroenteritis and other infections.”

GP and menopause specialist Dr Louise Newson said the first line of treatment for menopause should be hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but a “holistic approach” is also important.

“Menopause is a long-term hormone deficiency and first-line treatment is replacing those hormones with HRT,” she added. “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, including hormones, regular exercise, a balanced diet, prioritising sleep and reducing stress.”

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