International Journal of Exercise Science 10(8): 1250-1262, 2017. To determine if cold-water swimmers have substantial differences in BMI, which might have a protective effect against heat loss during swims in cold water without wetsuits, and to determine if obesity is more or less prevalent in cold-water swimmers, we compared the body mass index (BMI) values of 103 recreational open-water swimmers (mean age 54.3 ±10.8 years) to data from various population groups. Swimmers swam consistently throughout the winter months, in the San Francisco Bay (water temperature range: 9.6° C [49.3 ° F] to 12.6° C [54.7 ° F]), without wetsuits. After matching for age and sex, the average BMI of cold-water swimmers (25.9 kg/m2) was lower than the corresponding predicted U.S. average BMI (29.2 kg/m2; p<.001), the predicted California state average BMI (28.0 kg/m2; p<.001), and the predicted San Francisco city average BMI (26.6 kg/m2; p=.047). The average BMI value for cold-water swimmers (25.9 kg/m2) was not significantly different from values of North American masters pool swimmers (25.1 kg/m2; p=.15) or international masters pool swimmers (25.3 kg/m2; p=.16). 10.7% of cold-water swimmers were classified as obese (BMI > 30 kg/m2) vs. 35.7%, 25.8%, and 11.8% of the U.S., California, and San Francisco populations, respectively. The lower or similar BMI values of our swimmers suggest that successful recreational swimming in cold water is influenced by factors other than body habitus, such as acclimatization, heat production while swimming, and most importantly, limiting immersion time. The relatively low prevalence of obesity in our swimmers suggests that cold-water swimming could contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

2162 BMI IJES Final Appendix.pdf (130 kB)
Supplemental Appendix