To swim or not to swim: examining the effects of cold-water on brain activity

The positive effect of cold water on health is known since Hippocrates claimed water therapy reduced lassitude, and Thomas Jefferson was a keen advocate of a daily cold water foot bath to maintain his ‘good health’. Surveying a large cohort of outdoor swimmers indicates that cold water immersion is associated with improvements in mental health, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and respiratory conditions. However, the effects of cold water on brain activity are largely unknown.

We hypothesise that short exposure to whole-body cold-water immersion leads to changes in functional connectivity between frontal and limbic areas that are critical for executive control and emotion processing. To test this hypothesis, a collaborative team of researchers from the Department of Psychology Bournemouth University (Professor Hana Burianova, Dr. Ala Yankouskaya, Dr. Marina Kilintari), the Faculty of Science and Health at Portsmouth University (Dr. Heather Massey), UHD (Dr. Ruth Williamson, Deputy Chief medical officer UHD, Visiting Professor Bournemouth University) and Institute for Medical Imaging and Visualisation (John Totman, MRI Business and Operations Manager at IMIV and Dr. Jamie Franklin, Head of Institute For Medical Imaging and Visualisation and Associate Professor) launched a study supported by QR Research fund and IMIV Pump Priming at BU.

The project is the first of a group of feasibility studies looking at fMRI as a tool to assess the impact of various interventions in brain function. Originally framed around the described mental health benefits of cold water swimming, the team is also interested in developing protocols to assess interventions in a variety of conditions affecting mental wellbeing with consideration of it providing a quantifiable research methodology for future studies.

The team is looking for healthy volunteers aged 18-45 to take part in the study. Please contact for more information.