Dr Mark Harper is a Consultant Anaesthetist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and expert adviser to the Outdoor Swimming Society whose research interests include the prevention of hypothermia pre and post-surgery and the therapeutic mechanisms and uses of cold-water adaptation and open water swimming.

Dr Mark Harper has recently contributed to two reports which discuss the physical and mental threats and benefits cold water swimming and immersion has on the body.

The first report, Open Water Swimming As A Treatment For Major Depressive Disorder, looks into a case study of a 24 year old woman with major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety, both of which she has suffered with since the age of seventeen.

Having tried two types of medication unsuccessfully, her desire to become medication free pushed her to trial regular open (which, in unheated locations in the UK, means cold) water swimming in the hope she would be able to reduce and eventually stop her medication. This activity led to an immediate improvement in her mood, and after a gradual reduction in her medication, she then became completely medication free. A year later, this was still the case.

The second report, Cold Water Immersion: Kill or Cure? Is a study into the effects of cold-water immersion on humans and focuses on the positive (cure) and negative (kill) physical effects of cold-water immersion. There is a thorough discussion of the beneficial results cold-water immersion can have with inflammation related conditions and boosting immunity function. It highlights the theoretical reasons as to why cold water swimming may improve a number of conditions but clearly indicates the need for further, clinical research.

If you are interested in reading more, you can find these reports online by clicking on their names. To access the full reports, you may be required to pay or sign up to a subscription.

Dr Mark Harper