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Could Cold Water Swimming Help Treat Depression?

It only took four months for a young woman to beat her depression with a totally drug-free treatment for it — in the form of taking a weekly swim in cold water. The woman had been treated for major depression for seven years, and had taken numerous antidepressants until the cold-water swims ended all that.

Today, she is medication-free and still swimming, The Guardian reports. While researchers said this “treatment” works because cold-water swimming can help activate stress responses in the body, a psychologist not involved in the treatment said that a number of things could have contributed to the woman’s recovery, including the “placebo effect” as well as the activity itself.

It’s a well-known fact that extreme temperature variations help optimize many biological functions, so it’s not surprising that cold-water swims helped this woman get better. Also called “cryotherapy,” this type of treatment has health benefits that include decreased inflammation, pain and swelling, and increased speed of recovery following an injury, in addition to reducing your symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The placebo effect is also a known “therapy.” A placebo is an inert substance that has no effect on your body, but for some reason still produces positive results, even when patients are told what they’re doing or taking is a placebo. The way this works is that the placebo effect taps into your body’s own virtual pharmacy, tapping your body’s chemical receptors the same way real drugs do, and effectively mimicking the results.

And then, there’s the activity effect — time and again, science has shown that simply engaging in physical activity can elevate your mood and lift you out of even the deepest states of depression. The thing is, when you’re in the throes of a depressive episode or even a blue mood, it can be hard to summon up the motivation to get moving.

The good news is that recent research suggests that even a minimal amount of exercise may be enough to combat depression in some people — and we’re talking as minimal as one hour a week. This is because physical movement and exercise increases serotonin in your brain and increases brain cells in your hippocampus, which are sometimes reduced in people with depression.

If you want to exercise, many different forms of movement and exercise have shown to help with depression, so if cold-water swimming isn’t your “thing,” yoga, aerobics, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), walking or my favorite — the Nitric Oxide Dump — or any number of sports activities are all options you can choose to do to give your mood a boost.

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