• Man lying on floor smiling.

    Snow walks and ice baths – Ice cold inspiration.

    Fun in falling temperatures – health techniques to enjoy when the mercury plummets.

    Text: Claudio Rimmele

Taking the lead from Japanese pearl divers.

In early April the water temperature in the sea off the south-west coast of Japan is just 5 degrees Celsius, but a Japanese pearl diver, or ama, can continue fishing for hours in the ice-cold depths. This traditional job has been practised for centuries by women. Thanks to their higher fat ratio and lighter body weight they can withstand the cold better than men, and dive deeper. Many amas keep working well into old age, remaining in excellent health despite the extreme temperatures – or maybe even thanks to them?

Ice cubes in hand.
  • Man lies in ice bath and relaxes.

The rejuvenating power of cold water.

Since the 1970s, scientists have been fascinated by the Japanese women pearl divers, with their resilience and robust good health. In a clinical study they discovered that the pearl divers’ arteries were much more elastic and efficient than usual for their age. “It was is if the stress of all that diving in cold water was taking years off them,” concludes Professor Tanaka, who led the study.

So, will cold diving join CrossFit and hot yoga as the next rejuvenating trend sport? Icy dives aren’t the only way to get your body into shape: all over the world people use cold water and ice to give their health a sharp boost. This is because the cold activates a variety of mechanisms in the body which are designed to enable us to survive in extreme conditions. Stimulating these mechanisms in a targeted step-by-step approach can lead to improved health and fitness.

Man lies in ice bath and relaxes.

Ice baths.

You don’t need to be a doctor to know that a short dip in an ice hole in a frozen lake is a real shock for the body, yet this is a practice indulged in by people in Russia, Germany and many other countries. They swear by its beneficial effects and especially the buzz they get from the generation of large amounts of adrenalin and happiness hormones. Fortunately, the shock is not always as bad after the first experience. Anyone who regularly bathes in icy water acclimatises their body to the cold: more blood flows through the small veins under the skin, keeping the body warm for longer. This is also the reason why ice baths help prevent the common cold. Improved circulation in the nose and throat also transports more defence cells to those areas of the body affected by the pathogens that cause the cold. However, ice bath initiates should not take the plunge straight away – before your first dip you will need to take cold showers over a period of several weeks to get acclimatised. And your first ice bath should only be undertaken under supervision.

Snow walks.

Walking barefoot through fields covered in fresh snow sounds like a very back-to-nature experience and an altogether chilly one. Those souls brave enough to take up snow walking are rewarded with a stronger immune system, fewer varicose veins and improved circulation. Before you venture out, it’s important to warm your feet and legs by doing gymnastics or some other exercise. During the walk you should raise your knees as much as possible and only expose one foot at a time to the impact of the cold. You are advised to keep the walks short to begin with. After your snow walk you should dry your feet well, put on warm socks and shoes and enjoy the tingling sensation in your legs.

Ice cubes on ground.
Ice cubes in hands.


Many cold-related techniques make use of nature and work with cold water, snow or ice. With cryotherapy, however, the extremely low temperatures are created artificially. The method was developed in Japan to treat people suffering from rheumatism and pain. Patients step naked into a refrigeration chamber maintained at a temperature of minus 110 degrees Celsius. According to studies, cryotherapy is most effective with patients suffering from acute pain, as the extreme shock of the cold releases anti-inflammatory hormones. It’s no surprise that many high-performance athletes use cryotherapy to recover after tough competitions.

No one needs to set new records for surviving low temperatures.

Although all these techniques are popular all over the world, many doctors warn of the high risk of injury involved. Perhaps some of us could initially settle for a cold foot-bath to give our immune system and circulation a boost. There’s no need to think you have to break the world record for surviving extreme cold (like the famous Iceman, Wim Hof). A holistic health practice may test your limits but it should never involve unnecessary risk. Besides, low temperatures alone are not enough. Swimming every day, a healthy, balanced, fish-rich diet, lots of sunlight and fresh air will also have their part to play in the pearl divers’ sprightliness as they jump into the water aged 70 and over. We can learn so much more from their lifestyle than just a hankering for an icy bath.

Ice cubes in bathtub with Mercedes-Benz bottle and black squeaky duck.