In the past, this blog has often stated the rich health benefits of swimming. After all, swimming is a wonderful aerobic exercise. In addition to its cardiovascular benefits, swimming works multiple muscle groups at once. That said, we’re entering the colder weather. Is swimming in cold water a heart attack risk?

Ask Your Doctor First

Before we assess whether swimming in cold water is a heart attack risk, there is someone you should speak to first. Obviously, that person is your doctor. Each of us has a storied and individual medical history. The only person who can properly assess your medical risk is an actual medical professional.

When it comes to matters of the heart, it is always crucial to take a potential threat seriously. Believe it or not, according to the Mayo Clinic, heart disease is the leading cause of death for American men and women. In fact, one in every four deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart-related issues. Keeping this in mind, we again implore you to speak to a doctor before swimming in cold water or engaging in any other potentially hazardous activities.

Is Swimming in Cold Water a Heart Attack Risk?

In the past, we’ve written about activities like Polar Bear Swims and cold water immersion therapy. Again, if your doctor clears you for these activities, they can be quite therapeutic – and even fun.


The first step is to understand what happens when swimming in cold water:

  • First, a swimmer’s heart rate will rise. For the unprepared, this can happen within two or three seconds of being submerged.
  • Additionally, the blood pressure rises.

The icy water from any type of cold water immersion can cause the blood vessels in a person’s body to constrict. This can result in a sudden spike in blood pressure and heart rate. This is obviously quite dangerous for people with a history of heart disease.

Regardless, it pays to be cautious either way. The icy temperatures affecting your body can cause a person to become disoriented. It can leave you winded or staggering. In the event that you feel woozy in the cold water, get out and immediately try to get warm. When swimming, we often wear less clothing, so wrap yourself in a towel and get indoors.

As always when dealing with frigid water temperatures, be aware of the dangers of cold water shock.

Buddy Up for Safety

If you are even slightly worried that swimming in cold water is potentially dangerous, it pays to bring a friend along. The buddy system works for all ages. An observer or friend can help you if you get in trouble or call for help.

Ending on a Positive Note

Of course, we don’t want this story to only read like doom and gloom. There are stories of great hope, even for people with heart disease. For example, this news report tells of a swimmer winning records even with a damaged heart. It is quite a story: