From WFH-related posture issues to post-Covid reintegration anxiety, to burnout – the past couple of years have really taken their toll on both our minds and our bodies. And in our now, health-conscious world, there are a whole host of new ways to reinvigorate mind, body and soul and have fun at the same time. As winter creeps in, and we notice cold and flu bugs on the rise our minds turn to seek out ways to boost our immune system so, although it may feel counterintuitive, reaping the benefits of safely dipping in icy rivers, wild seas and frosty lakes this winter, could actually be one of the best things you do for your immune system.
Also, as we enter winter and the days get shorter, this can impact our moods in a detrimental way. Ice bathing and cold-water therapy has been shown to help here too, with exposure to the cold reducing stress and even giving us an increase in happy hormones.
Personally, I have been drawn to cold water swimming for years. Although living in London for most of my adult life makes it difficult to put into practice especially if what I am really looking for is a cold water swimming experience in nature – which it is! However, I have now moved out to the countryside and closer to the coast (although still a 40-minute drive) and so natural, clean cold water is a lot more accessible to me. However, I have a bucket list of cold water therapies that I am longing to do in Austria. Known for its beautiful fresh air, mountain views, tree-lined lakes, snowy mountain vistas and unbelievably crystal clear waters (some of the cleanest in the world) I am just a few months away from a very special trip I have planned out there this winter, which will, without doubt, include some of their most enviable cold water therapies.
With more than 700 waterfalls, 25,000 lakes and countless beautiful, little mountain springs and wild streams, it makes total sense that Austria was and still is, in my opinion, the epicentre for wellness spas centred around hydrotherapy in Europe. German health pioneer, Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), a herbalist and water doctor whose findings form the basis of water applications across the Austrian wellness sector, believed water contained healing powers and much of his findings formed the basis for what we know as hydrotherapy today. Today still we have a host of wellness experts telling us the same thing – cold water is good for us, and in Winter it can be transformative.
Ice, Ice Baby
Winter in Austria is really quite a special time, the snow, the frozen lakes and of course, the ice all adding to its immense beauty. But did you know that Ice Bathing is also a thing in Austria? Diving into a frozen lake in winter may sound too extreme for you but before you hang up your swimming costume in dismay, read on to find out the amazing health benefits that it can bring. From boosting your immune system to beating winter blues, ice bathing can really improve a person’s wellbeing and state of mind. People who practice this ancient wellbeing tradition report more energy, a boost in the happy hormones endorphins and a deeper connection with themselves and their breath. Just make sure you’ve got something warm and dry to wrap you up when you get out and a lovely hot drink too!
So How Does Cold Water Therapy Work?
Coldwater therapy can come in many forms, think wild swimming in lakes, cold showers, ice baths/dips, even cold chambres, the general thinking is that it just needs to be below 15 degrees. Basically, it is widely believed that the cold water immersion causes your lymph vessels and blood vessels to contract, boosting both blood circulation and also forcing your lymphatic system to pump fluids through your body helping to flush out the toxins. As for the lift in mood? The cold water triggers a flood of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, which in turn make you feel happy!
Come rain, snow or shine you’ll find people heading to the lakes to cold-water bathe in some of the most stunning locations in Austria, even when the temperatures really drop. Here are our top three:
Achensee Lake, Tirol
The emerald, crystal clear waters of Achensee Lake in Tirol are enticing enough, but with its stunning backdrop of the snow-capped Alps and frosty meadows, you’ll never want to leave. Covering 6.8 square kilometres and up to 133 metres deep, it is the region’s largest lake. The waters can get fairly chilly here in winter and up to 20-22 degrees in the summer. So clear is the water that scuba divers can see 10 meters ahead of themselves. Why not start your new year with a brazen dip in this lake? You won’t be the only one!
Lake Weissensee, Carinthia
Situated on the southern side of the Alps, this fjord-like lake boasts beautiful views and the cleanest water in the Austrian province of Carinthia. In winter the 6.5km squared lake becomes the largest natural ice surface in Europe, swimming is not possible when the lake freezes over however there are many brave and curious scuba divers that enjoy the unique experience of scuba diving beneath the ice.
Lake Zell, SalzburgerLand
Just like all the other aforementioned lakes in Austria, Lake Zell has beautiful, clean, clear water. The mountains that caress it’s banks are crowned by an impressive glacier. Swimmers will love the wild swimming here, and after your cool dip in the lake why not warm yourself up with a hot drink from one of the laid-back street cafés that line its promenade.
words by Sadie Reid