An Ode to Winterbathing, the hobby that saved my life

Mika Aldaba
3 min readMar 6, 2023

When I first moved to Denmark, it was smack dab in the middle of winter. I still remember the kind of cold that seeps inside your bones during that first cold wave. Does every winter get easier? Not really. Doing hygge activities certainly helped. But the most effective way to get through winter is by embracing the cold by taking an icy plunge.

They say that when you go through grief, you can’t avoid the uncomfortable feelings, you need to dive right in and be in the dark for a while. Because the light eventually follows, but not before encountering the dark first. I suppose the cold works the same way. I’ve never been warmer than the moment after I get out of the water.

My 2020 self thought these people were nuts. Today you will see me with them.

My winterbathing saga began after a recklessly wild Halloween party where we were so hungover, the only possible cure was to shock our poisoned bodies with the cold autumn harbour water. It was effective and I got hooked. Although not entirely scientifically proven (though there are some studies if you Google), my own personal anecdotal evidence is that I do feel healthier and happier after doing this regularly. My 77-year old neighbour looks at least a decade younger. She swears by 3 things: sunscreen, walking 10km per day and winterbathing.

Why should you go winterbathing?

  1. It feels amazing — it gives you a quick hormone boost. The contrast with the sauna or hot shower after makes it even better. It teaches me that the cold doesn’t last forever. Plus, I get to feel like a Viking.
  2. Physical benefits include helping the body acclimatize to the cold better, boosts natural immunity and speeds up metabolism. I noticed that my nose is less clogged and my skin quality also improved. Farewell winter skin!
  3. Mentally, it can potentially cure depression. It reduced my anxiety because my body gets used to the stress by voluntarily putting myself through something extreme. It helps clear my mind and so I focus better at work and am more creative.
  4. I love doing it first thing in the morning. It wakes me up instantly, more effective than caffeine.
  5. For pain relief and recovery. My muscles thank me for this after a run or intense workout. It also works for healing all sorts of trauma.
  6. To develop a closer affinity to nature. I care even more about the environment now because I prefer swimming in the sea than in pools. It makes me sad to see all the plastic in the canals and motivates me to do something about it.

There are winterbathing clubs in Copenhagen with saunas. I desperately want a membership, but the waitlists can take up to a decade. It is free to just take a dip! Islands Brygge, Kalvebød Brygge and Nordhavn are some of my favourite areas in the harbour to go.

Bring out your inner ice mermaid. Official free bathing spots along the Copenhagen harbour.

If you want to start winterbathing, try finding some people to go with. This group goes to Svanemøllen on Saturday mornings. Never go alone. It is safer, more motivational and more fun to go with friends. Begin swimming outdoors in the summer to slowly adjust to the lowering water temperatures. And always remember to check the water quality before going in. Note that you should always check with your doctor before trying winterbathing!

I once thought people who went winterbathing were insane. Now it has become a part of my November to March routine. Furthermore, it has taught me how to get through the winters of life.