Stepping on the snow, changing showers, ice bathing: healthy or risky?

Icy cold kicks: Because saunas and swimming pools are closed, some people resort to strong cold stimuli to stimulate the immune system. What winter bathing and co. Bring, how one should prepare

Defying the cold: Editor Ilona Stüß bathing in winter in the 3 degree warm Walchensee

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Would you jump into a lake in winter and do your laps in the ice-cold water? Voluntary? Ursula Schwarz loves the fine tingling of the icy water on her skin when she takes the first puffs. "And after the bath I have good blood circulation and warmth. My skin feels very soft." The 67-year-old is chairwoman of the "Berliner Seehunde", an association of 75 winter swimmers and ice bathers between 13 and 80 who meet every Sunday at the Orankesee lido. In any weather.

Ice bathing is a matter of getting used to

For over 30 years, Ursula Schwarz has been drawn to the water all year round, which cools down to nine to half a degree Celsius in autumn and winter. It's just fun, refreshing your head and body. Her cold sensation was rather less pronounced as a result of ice bathing: "I'm not that squeamish about the weather, and I don't wear socks almost all year round."

Like Ursula Schwarz, many people swear to harden themselves through cold stimuli. They want to arm themselves against runny nose and other colds with watering and alternating showers in their own bathroom or when stepping on the dew or snow in nature.

Chilblains: Hardening by cold stimuli makes sense

This is particularly useful for "frostbite" who spend the whole day in rooms with a pleasant temperature. "They're shivering if they just walk outside in winter," as Dr. Hans-Jörg Ohlert, medical director of the Kneipp Foundation in Bad Wörishofen, observed again and again. Resilience trains the ability of the vessels to adapt to cooler weather in these sensitive areas. With regular cooling applications, the temperature regulation levels off again to the normal level.

"But you should be careful to slowly increase the body's adaptation reaction to mild stimuli," says Ohlert. Those who are not used to cold stimuli and stand under the icy shower in the morning or run naked into the freshly fallen snow do not get fitter - they get sick first.

Alternating baths and alternating showers for beginners

The Kneipp doctor advises untrained people to start with alternating foot baths or arm baths in order to improve their tolerance to cold. Cold partial pourings follow later on the feet, knees, thighs and arms. This is also possible in the shower with the shower head. Please discuss this with your family doctor beforehand. And it is best to start in summer, when the core body temperature has risen a little and cooling down is welcome. That doesn't make the training so intense right away.

Ursula Schwarz also warns against starting winter swimming in snow and ice. Her tip for beginners: "Just don't end the season in September, but continue swimming regularly." Before she gets into the cool water, the Berliner doesn't fail to warm up with gymnastic exercises. Because despite all the routine, it takes a bit of effort every time to slide into the lake. "Cold water stays cold. Even for winter swimmers!" She says with a laugh. If Ursula Schwarz leaves the wet after a few minutes, she immediately wraps herself in her fluffy bathrobe.

Only step on the snow with warm feet

Exposing yourself to the cold while cold is not healthy. When you step on water, dew or snow, for example, your feet should always be nice and warm. "A cold stimulus on cold feet is not a stimulus in the strict sense, but also reduces blood circulation," emphasizes Ohlert. In addition, the feet and the nasopharynx are closely related. If the feet are cold, says the expert, the nasal mucous membrane is also poorly supplied with blood.

What does cold do in a healthy organism? The body initially reacts to this by narrowing the vessels. To warm up, he then expands it again. One consequence: the skin and mucous membranes are supplied with more blood. Viruses are also less able to dock on moist, well-perfused mucous membranes, for example in the nasopharynx. In addition, with the increased blood flow, more immune cells reach the risk zone, which recognize and intercept possible pathogens.

Proven to have a positive effect on health

Smaller studies have shown that hardening the immune system mobilizes the immune system to produce more immune cells. For example, in a study by the University of Jena with 20 COPD patients who regularly received cold chest rests. Subsequent blood analyzes showed that the number of immune-relevant cells was increased by 13 percent compared to the control group.

"The effects disappear again relatively quickly, but they are reproducible," says Professor Annette Becker from the Department of General Medicine, Preventive and Rehabilitative Medicine at the University of Marburg. That speaks for a positive effect. However, it is not clear whether this change also helps prevent colds.

Vitamin D is important for the immune system

Can those who really like to have a warm shower also benefit - that is, those contemporaries who are already out and about at twelve degrees plus with a down jacket and hat? Ohlert advises people sensitive to the cold to dry brushes in the morning and daily walks in the fresh air in order to activate the circulation - even when it is raining, storming or snowing. Spending as much as possible in nature stimulates the body to produce vitamin D. Most Central Europeans lack this vitamin, especially in the dark season. But the so-called sun vitamin has a major influence on immune function, as demonstrated by a study in the specialist magazine BMC Infectious Diseases. If you want to prevent colds, your entire lifestyle generally plays a role - lots of exercise, a healthy diet, enough sleep.

For Eisbaderin Ursula Schwarz, toughening up through the cold has proven itself as training for defense. She rarely catches a cold.

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