Nazaré Beach
Nazaré Beach

Beyond sun and sand: the benefits of cold exposure at the beach

Now that spring is upon us, the weather is a little warmer and the sun has started to shine a little brighter. With spring comes the promise of longer days, blossoming flowers and, of course, since we all live in Portugal, more time spent at the beach.

After a long, cold winter, there is nothing quite like feeling the warm sun on our skin and the sand between our toes. However, that said, we still can’t forget about the importance of cold exposure.

Cold exposure, or the practice of intentionally exposing ourselves to cold temperatures, has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, especially due to people like Joe Rogan and Andrew Huberman, who constantly advocate the benefits of such practices on their podcasts.

Another major advocate is, of course, Wim Hof, also known as “The Iceman”. He is famous for his ability to withstand extreme cold temperatures and has set several world records for feats such as swimming under ice and climbing Mount Everest in nothing but his shoes and shorts.

I first started cold exposure by simply finishing off my warm showers with cold water. I first started off staying in the cold shower for just a few seconds and gradually built up my tolerance to a few minutes.

At the time, I thought the only benefit was building mental resilience by stepping out of my comfort zone and enduring discomfort, which would help to strengthen my ability to tolerate stress and challenges in other areas of life. However, over time, I have researched more about the subject and found that there are so many more health benefits to exposing oneself to cold temperatures.

According to Huberman, doing something deliberately, and believing that it’s going to be good for us, can lead to a different set of physiological effects as opposed to something that is happening to us against our will.

That said, deliberate cold exposure has a very powerful effect on the release of dopamine in our bodies, improving mental clarity and alertness for several hours, even after leaving the cold environment. It also increases your metabolism, and one way to maximise the benefits is to force yourself to reheat on your own after the cold exposure. Furthermore, all the benefits can lead to a stronger immune system.

An Apparition of the Adamastor - Carlos Reis (before 1940)
An Apparition of the Adamastor – Carlos Reis (before 1940)

The water, or your environment, should be uncomfortably cold but not so cold that you cannot endure it safely. This will vary from person to person, but one good thing to keep in mind is to progress slowly when embarking on new challenges.

Earlier I mentioned cold showers, which are a great and easy way to start out. However, cold immersion up to the neck is the most effective option, which can be anything from a cold bath or even a dip in the sea.

Living in Portugal, we are blessed with a warm climate and stunning beaches, but the sea is practically always “freezing”. This is due to a combination of factors such as Portugal’s location on the westernmost part of Europe, where we are exposed to the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

In the Algarve, the sea is typically warmer compared to the rest of Portugal, but even there, strong winds and currents bring cold water from deeper parts of the Ocean to the surface, resulting in cooler temperatures.

Whilst the cold water provides a refreshing escape from the heat during the warmer months, it also provides us with the perfect setting to practice cold exposure, surrounded by the beauty of Portugal’s beaches.

This all reminds me of the legend of the Adamastor, a well-known Portuguese mythological tale that dates back to the 16th century. In the famous epic poem “The Lusíadas”, by Luís Vaz de Camões, the Adamastor is portrayed as a monstrous and powerful figure who appears before Vasco da Gama and his crew, warning them of the dangers that lie ahead.

The legend and the challenges faced by the sailors who ventured into the Ocean can serve as a metaphor for the challenges we face when we embark on new challenges. Just as the sailors feared the wrath of the giant, we may also be intimidated by the prospect of exposing ourselves to cold temperatures.

However, just as Vasco da Gama and his crew overcame their fears and navigated the treacherous seas, we too can build up our tolerance to cold exposure and reap the many benefits it has to offer. By facing our fears and embracing discomfort, we can become more resilient, both physically and mentally.

After all, there’s no better time than now to start your journey towards better health and wellness.

By Jay Costa Owen

|| [email protected]
Jay works for a private charter airline, and is also a UX designer and aspiring author who enjoys learning about history and other cultures