This New Year’s found me in Tobermory, Ontario again — right on Georgian Bay at the tip of the Northern Bruce Peninsula. It’s a beautiful place, with crystal clear waters, pristine air, amazing natural scenery and plenty of wildlife.
I’ve done a number of weekend fitness retreats based out of Tobermory (make sure you’ve subscribed your email for updates), and have been here in the winter for snowshoeing, hiking, winter workouts – and this year – my New Year’s swim in the harbour.
I love doing polar plunges, and every experience gets better. And I’ve written about the benefits of cold-water therapy before, so I won’t go into the details here — except to say that winter swimming is really good for your hormones and your health.
In years past (I’ve been doing these dips for about 10 years), I approached these types of events with nervous apprehension. I’ve learned a lot since. Now I feel I’m more relaxed and can withstand and appreciate the cold more. The experiences aren’t just a “dunk”; I can swim around for a bit and stay in the water longer.
Part of the trick is to enter the water in a prepared state. I start with some breathing exercises, concentrating on taking deep breaths from the belly. This helps get oxygen into my system and triggers an epinephrine response.
I still worry about my fingers and toes going too numb, especially when I come out of the water. It’s important to get them dry and warm as quickly as possible, as the air and wind can cause frostbite very fast. Not to mention that it’s very painful when the warmth starts coming back into the fingers…
One trick that I’m going to remember is to make a tight fist with the hands (pressing the fingers into the palms). If you keep your fists against your chest (with your thumbs pressed into your body), you’ll help protect your digits and keep them from getting too numb.
Periodically opening and tightening your fists will also keep the blood flowing.
Nevertheless, aside from the fingers and toes — the whole experience is one of warmth!
When you come out of the water, your body gets very warm. It’s almost as if you’ve got your own internal furnace and you’ve just raised the thermostat.
While I’ve done a number or organized polar bear dips for charity, I prefer doing my own (with a friend or two for safety). It’s impossible to focus in the large groups, and you end up getting caught up in the adrenaline of the event. The experience should almost be meditative to really get the benefits.
Doing a winter swim on New Year’s Day also is a good way to reset the body – both physically and mentally. Like the New Year itself, a ritual like this marks a new beginning.
Here’s to a great year of positive health habits!