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Cold water has changed my life

My name is Annika Surry and I live close to the beach in Greve, Denmark.

We use the beach a lot, summer and winter.

In 2004, I lost all my hair – on my entire body – probably due to stress and lack of sleep.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, which gives me cognitive challenges, fatigue and muscle and neuro pains. Following my diagnosis of MS, I began a new exercise regime to keep my body fit and mobile. Initially, I exercised twice a week. Finding that the more I trained, the better I felt – and that with this, my mobility also improved – I pushed myself to exercise between 4 and 6 times a week.

In March last year, I decided to change my diet and lifestyle – not that it was bad before, but I knew it could be better, and diet affects MS. I have always eaten healthily and tried various diets. This time, I decided to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. At the same time, the club where I do outdoor strength training began offering breathing and meditation exercises in the water after each training session. We would stay in the cold water a bit longer each time. It was great. I got the hang of it quite quickly and, best of all, my body was enjoying it. So this is when it all began.

Already in April, I could see tiny baby hairs on my head. I still slept 2 or 3 times a day, but I was feeling less fatigue and my mind felt clearer. It was a great incentive to continue with my new regime. As I carried on with my new diet and lifestyle, I got more and more hair on my head – by the end of the summer, I had thrown my wigs and hats away and was brave enough to go out without anything covering my white, still almost bald head.

I’m by no means an experienced cold-water swimmer; this is my first real winter season. In February 2021, I challenged myself to go swimming at sunrise every morning, regardless of the weather. This turned out to be a fantastic challenge and great for my mind and body, and, a bit like the training, the more often I got into the cold water, the better I felt. It's the best thing ever and I have become addicted. I also love the positive vibes and lovely people I have met along the way. I had to continue my challenge.

At the moment, I get up around 5am every morning, waking up even before my alarm tells me to. It’s like my body knows what is coming and can’t wait for it; I’m ready. I like to be at the beach about half an hour before sunrise because the sky and the colours are just magnificent.

But even when the skies are grey, or if it's raining, your spirits are still lifted by a swim in the sea at sunrise. It is one of the most beautiful times of the day. It gives me a reason to get up the morning – and that’s vital for mental health.

The beach is only a five-minute walk from my house. When I get there, it’s like the weight is lifted off my shoulders; there are no worries, no troubles, just peace and living in the present. Sometimes I meet up with wonderful people in my life – friends or family – and we sit in our sleeping bags with our morning coffee and enjoy the sunrise before jumping into the ice-cold waves. But sometimes I’m on my own, and that is a meditative experience. I’m normally a very social and chatty person but when I sit there alone, the only thing I can do is enjoy the relaxing sound of splashing waves, the calls of the birds, and watch a beautiful sunrise. I’m enjoying life.

Because the sea is very shallow where we live, you have to go out a long way before it is over your knees, so the cold water really bites your legs and feet before it is deep enough to swim. Once I’m in, after about 30 seconds, I find the cold water very soothing, and I stay there between 5 and 15 minutes. Back home, I dance round the kitchen with a hot cup of tea until I have warmed up again.

The benefits of cold-water swimming are endless. You can feel them instantly with a rush of endorphins through your body; I love the kick, the prickling and the buzzing feeling that awakens the whole nervous system and all the senses I love the “I am alive feeling” I get.

The extra bonus for me is that it helps my whole body – my MS, my mental health, and my general health. And, after 16 years, my hair has started growing back.

Cold water swimming at sunrise has become my new best friend. It has changed my life. I do it because I get high on life and love everything about it.


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