Today was the 7th time I participated in the Polar Bear Club and plunged myself into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario. Thanks to friends Shari and Vito who shared in the experience today!
There’s something exhilarating (and perhaps a bit crazy) about jumping into icy waters wearing not much more than a bathing suit and a pair of water shoes.
First of all, a polar bear plunge is a figurative way of washing away any holiday excesses and starting the year fresh. Call it a symbolic detox. (And a symbolic detox is the only kind of detox I believe in).
It’s also just a fun, social activity. Yes, I know — you may have other definitions of “fun”…
I’ve done organized dips, unofficial plunges and even tried regular ice-water dousing. Speaking of fun, this was me on the Bruce Peninsula last year, and yes — those are snowshoes.
OK, so maybe I am a bit nuts.
Despite the challenge, cold-water immersion or dousing does have some real benefits:
It increases your tolerance to stress and boosts your immunity. Whenever you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you are training to expand your zone of comfort. You’ll be less likely to complain that you’re too hot or too cold.
It can help alleviate muscle soreness. One of my fellow plungers today was suffering from a sore shoulder, and he noticed that the pain went away after our dip. That may be anecdotal, but there is significant research that validates cold-water therapy as a credible tool for inflammation control and pain relief among athletes.
There is also some talk about ice baths being able to increase your fat-burning potential. Tim Ferris wrote about the effect of ice-water baths on “brown fat” (a type of fat that burns energy rather than storing it) in his book “The Four-Hour Body“.
Of course most people struggle with finding time to exercise and eat properly, let alone engage in regular ice-therapy, so I’m not suggesting you start immersing yourself in ice-water baths every other day…
But some exposure to cold water is “good for you”, there’s no doubt.
Try taking a cold shower.
If you’re brave, you can try some ice-water dousing (remember the ALS ice-bucket challenge)?
The Russians and Scandinavians have been doing it for years…
Whatever you do, keep safety in mind and be aware that there are some risks. You should be in reasonable shape and not be at risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure problems or stroke.