Women who regularly participate in cold-water swimming say they see significant improvement in a range of menopause and menstrual symptoms.
A study of 1,114 women who took part in cold-water swimming – 785 of whom were going through the menopause – found benefits on anxiety, mood swings, low mood and hot flushes.
Almost two-thirds of the women surveyed said they did cold-water swimming specifically to relieve their symptoms.
Overall, 46.9% of the women reported a significant improvement to anxiety levels with around a third reporting an impact on mood and 30% said it helped with hot flushes.
Women not going through the menopause also reported that cold-water swimming reduced their period symptoms including anxiety (46.9%), mood swings (34.5%) and irritability (37.6%).
Researchers from University College London said other studies had shown that ice baths are linked to improved mood and reduced stress.
Writing in the Post Reproductive Health journal they said more research is needed to unpick the frequency, duration, temperature and exposure needed to produce a reduction in symptoms in menopause.
They noted that the study only included women who already did cold water swimming. Most of the participants were likely to swim in both summer and winter and wear swimming costumes, rather than wet suits.
As well as helping to manage menopausal symptoms, women said they did cold water swimming to get outside, improve their mental health and to exercise.
Some of the women quoted in the study said that they found the cold water to be ‘an immediate stress/ anxiety reliever’ and described the activity as ‘healing’.
One 57-year-old woman said: ‘All symptoms (physical and mental) disappear and I feel like me at my best.’
Study author Professor Joyce Harper, professor of reproductive science at UCL 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.’
She added: ‘We hope our findings may provide an alternative solution for women struggling with the menopause and encourage more women to take part in sports.’
Not only did women feel their symptoms were helped by the physical and mental effects of the cold water, the improvement was more pronounced when it was colder, the study found.
‘How often they swam, how long for and what they wore were also important.
‘Those that swam for longer had more pronounced effects. The great thing about cold water swimming is it gets people exercising in nature, and often with friends, which can build a great community.’