It seems more and more people across the globe are foregoing immersion in chlorinated public watering holes in favor of rediscovering the pleasures of untamed lakes, rivers, and oceans—even in the depths of winter. And, “why” you may ask? Enthusiasts for the activity claim that taking a dip in cold water is not just fun, it also delivers mental and physical health benefits.
A lot has been written lately about the growing number of people braving freezing temperatures to swim in the great outdoors. In increasing numbers, these devotees of the cold are invading freshwater lakes, plunging in icy mountain pools, and thrashing about in ocean waves, all to experience the inner calm and alleged ultimate natural high found with wild winter swimming. (In case you were wondering, wild swimming is swimming in any natural body of water, including lakes, ponds, rivers, and oceans.)
Once only experienced in the name of cultural traditions or perhaps as part of special-forces training, the practice is now going mainstream and is even finding a niche in the wellness travel boom. In recent years, many countries including Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—whose denizens have enjoyed skinny-dipping in cold rivers under the midnight sun for generations—are developing destinations for those embarking on a whole-body health and wellness journey that includes wild winter swimming.
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It’s Good for You!
The general theory behind swimming in cold water is that exposure to cold helps combat microtraumas (small tears) in muscle fibers and general discomfort caused by intense or repetitive exercise. The icy plunge is thought to constrict blood vessels, flush waste products, and reduce swelling and tissue breakdown.
Indeed, researchers1 observed “a drastic decrease in plasma uric acid concentration” in groups of people who regularly swam in ice-cold water during the winter, both during and after cold water exposure. This resulted in a “hardening” of the body, which triggered “an increased tolerance to stress.”
Another study2 found that sitting in cold water for fifteen minutes decreased the heart rate of participants by almost ten percent, reducing blood pressure and leading to a calming effect.
People who are active wild winter swimmers seem to repeat the refrain that the intense cold makes them feel alive in a way they normally do not experience, proving to provide soothing and calming benefits. They insist the sensations lift any brain fog resulting in a feeling of renewal with an afterglow that dramatically boosts their mood for days. This seems to be antithetical to those of us who relish the effervescence of a hot tub instead of braving bitter temperatures, unpredictable currents, and the fear of the unknown lurking beneath.
However, because of its repetitive nature, swimming is incredibly meditative. If you think about it, you can intimately listen to the waves lapping on the shoreline with the feeling of weightlessness in the cold water acting as a sensory enhancement, and the vastness and power of your environment reminding you that your worries are really very manageable. Could wild winter swimming truly be the answer to full relaxation?
It’s Time to Try it for Yourself
If wild winter swimming appeals to you, there are obvious associated risks to consider. We suggest you start small and consider some of these travel destinations with the experience to get you ready for your first wild winter plunge.
The Arctic Bath is a twelve-room boutique spa on Lapland, Sweden’s Lule River. This unique hotel and spa welcomes guests to immerse themselves in the elements while leaving behind a minimal environmental footprint.
It features six cabins on land, six that float on the frozen river, and a structure resembling a log jam at the center of it all which is home to saunas, hot baths and, yes, an icy plunge pool.
The team at Arctic Bath prioritizes nutrition, regular exercise, peace of mind, and care of the face and skin. If you head into the open-air cold bath at night, you’re likely to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. Or, watch the sky from your bed—the cabins all have glass ceilings!
Christmas Swim in Scotland
What Christmas celebration is complete without swimming in five-degree Celsius water? For something more festive, SwimQuest specializes in open water swimming vacations and is now taking reservations for 2020 Christmas wild winter swim vacations in Arisaig, Scotland. You’ll stay comfortably cozy in the Traigh House, nestled three miles north of Arisaig. And while there is no pressure to swim on this trip, there will be two or three short winter dips to either Loch Morar (four-to-eight degrees Celsius), as well as along the sandy beaches towards Mallaig (five-to-ten degrees Celsius), followed by wonderful food and time to relax around the log fire. Your stay even includes a homemade Christmas dinner followed by games and carols by candlelight.
For complete information visit: https://swimquest.uk.com/scotland/
How Cold Could It Be?
If you are still not moved to try wild winter swimming but are intrigued by the benefits of cold immersion, perhaps these resorts can get your teeth chattering in a less wild manner.
Sparkling Hill Resort
If you find ice baths and plunges a bit uncomfortable, consider a visit to a Cryo Cold Chamber. The first thing you notice at the Sparkling Hill Resort in British Columbia are the more than three-and-a-half million crystals that adorn its walls. As if British Columbia isn’t cold enough, the Sparkling Hill’s KurSpa is now the only location in North America to offer the three-chamber approach to cryo treatments. Guests quickly become used to the cold air therapy and any residual moisture evaporates from the skin within the first two chambers so that by the time the third chamber is entered at -110 °C—yes you read that right, -110°C—the cold is quite bearable due to the almost zero percent humidity. This cold sauna technology is an alternative to pharmaceutical medications and is a whole-body treatment aimed at reducing inflammation and swelling in order to reduce chronic pain and loss of joint mobility. If you are feeling brave, make a reservation and step inside!
888 Sparkling Place, Vernon, BC. V1H 2K7 Canada
1.877.275.1556 | email@example.com
Dusit Hotspring Beach Resort & Spa
Don’t let the name of the location fool you—you can still get your cold-on here! While the resort boasts the benefits of bathing in natural hot springs—even in Thailand’s tropical climate—it also embraces the benefits of cold therapy. The resort offers guests an icy pool, and while some cold-water therapy enthusiasts may consider the pool’s temperature of sixteen degrees Celsius a bit balmy, it will still give you that jump in the morning! A dip will stimulate your nerve endings and help get rid of your grogginess. A cold-water bath is also said to help treat depression by increasing the release of depression-beating chemicals like noradrenaline. The benefits abound!
An Ice Breaker for Traditions, and Even Fundraising
If the health benefits of a cold-water swim have not convinced you to take the plunge, maybe doing it to support local traditions or raising money for a good cause will sway you!
The Polar Plunge is comprised of a variety of events that happen around the world when temperatures drop below freezing. For example, Canada has events like polar bear swims, dips, or plunges, depending on where you are. However, it’s become a New Year’s tradition to take the plunge because it helps to purify you for the new year.
The Nieuwjaarsduik is an event that happens in different places around The Netherlands. There are towns like Scheveningen that are beach resorts most of the year, but in the winter they promote dips in the icy waters.
In New Zealand, winter happens in June and July and the country is so far south that the days get very short. New Zealanders—or Kiwis as they call themselves—gather on beaches like Castlecliff, Saint Clair Beach, and Papamoa Beach to celebrate the shortest day of the year by plunging into the cold waters.
Americans refer to their event as the “Polar Bear Plunge” and it has become a fundraiser for the Special Olympics. Plunges are held throughout winter in many locations, with thousands gathering annually in December in Buffalo, New York, to take a dip in Lake Erie (which by that time has dipped to a frigid four degrees Celsius)! But remember: it’s all for a good cause!
Uric acid and glutathione levels during short-term whole-body cold exposure
The effects of cold-water immersion on power output and heart rate in elite cyclists