On the shortest day of the year, about 30 people gathered in the early hours of the morning in Victoria's Gippsland for a cold water swim to celebrate the winter solstice.
- Organiser and participant Sallie Jones says the practice teaches people to feel comfortable in the uncomfortable
- Experts say swimming in cold water offers a range of health benefits
- A group of swimmers at Lakes Entrance braved the cold water for a dawn swim ahead of the winter solstice
The water temperature was 6 degrees Celsius in Lakes Entrance when the early risers dived into the lakes on the shortest day of the year.
Event organiser and participant Sallie Jones said cold water swimming forced her to push through a feeling of discomfort and gain a sense of accomplishment.
"It's really hard to jump into cold water. It's just a hard thing do that," she said.
"That's the whole point about feeling comfortable in the uncomfortable and we don't like to get out of our comfort zones."
Ms Jones said the practice helped to assure her of her ability to overcome challenges.
"It's the whole, 'yes, I can nail today, I've got it sorted, I've done a hard thing'," she said.
Benefits vs risks
Cardiologist and Beyond Blue ambassador Geoffrey Toogood swims in cold water almost every day and says the mental and physical health benefits are astounding.
"When you plunge in the initial shock for some people there is a gasp reflex, which is a sudden instantaneous thing that you need to close your mouth and protect yourself from the water going in, and that sometimes will slow the heart rate down," Dr Toogood said.
"It increases brown fat, which is good fat … brown fat is better at maintaining body heat."
Previous studies have linked cold water immersions to increased immune function; reduced inflammation; and positive effects of the cardiovascular system, endocrine system and psyche.
Dr Toogood said swimming in a group added to the mental health benefits, bringing a sense of belonging, while increasing fitness.
He had previously had significant depression but said swimming improved his mental health and reduced his high blood pressure.
"If I swim a lot in cold water, I [still] take blood pressure medication, but I need to be on less," Dr Toogood said.
But he said there was some risk associated with cold water swimming, including hypothermia.
He recommends for people with heart conditions to first consult their doctor before taking the plunge.
The swim was part of the East Gippsland Winter Festival, which features more than 100 events across the region for a month between June 9 and July 9.
Organiser Adam Bloom said the idea spawned in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires, with the aim to attract tourists to the region during what was usually a quiet part of the year.
"There was lots happening in East Gippsland over summer, so we thought winter was the best time to try to attract visitors to the region," he said
"That's when we had all this accommodation available and not a lot of people here."