A Polar Bear Plunge is jumping into icy cold water, outside, on a chilly winter day, on purpose. These events got started on New Year’s Day in 1904 when a swim club called the L Street Brownies jumped into Dorchester Bay in Boston, Massachusetts. That is why National Polar Bear Plunge Day takes place on January 1, but the events often take place throughout January and February all over the world.
The concept was not a new one on that freezing cold day in 1904. Scandinavians started popping into frozen waters and swimming about a century earlier.
“In 1814, the Swedish Medical Association prescribed “cold, salty baths” for patients,” says an article on strangersguide.com, “and it was partly thanks to Dr. Carl Peter Curman that the link between cold-water swimming, fresh air, [and] healthy food … became part of a healthy lifestyle. This health craze reached a peak in the 1960s and ’70s as raw carrots, herbal tea, fasting and health food became fashionable. But in the 1980s, cold-water swimming became less popular. Suffering was out; consumption, vacations to Crete and lounging in the pool were in… Now the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction again….”
There are indeed health benefits to plunging into icy cold water. It is described as being “like a shot of adrenaline.” It can help with blood sugar regulation and fat burning. Of course, part of that might be moving quickly to get in and out of the bath of a thousand pins as quickly as possible.
Seriously, ice baths have been shown in studies to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, which is common in Northern European countries due to the lack of sunlight for months at a time. They can also heal inflammation, support the immune system, lower stress and relieve depression, according to goodrx.com.
Jumping into freezing cold water can also have detrimental effects, especially for those with heart disease because it increases heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. People with any heart issues are asked not to participate in Polar Bear Plunges.
There are a number of Polar Bear Plunges coming up in the Middle Tennessee area over the next several months for the stout of heart. All of them take place to support a local charity. The largest charity effort to get people to take the plunge is Special Olympics Tennessee. Their website can link those willing to brave temperatures 32 degrees or lower to the locations where they can jump in. Some of these plunges are in pools and some are in lakes.
Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunges can be done as an individual, with a friend or family member, or as part of a team. There are often prizes for costumes and having great spirit. While costumes are fun, it is best to have one that is easily removed upon getting out of the water.
Getting very wet and cold will be enjoyed more if one comes prepared. Have a warm towel and/or robe and slippers to get into the moment you get out. Have a change of clothing to go home in. And a warm drink after is also a good idea. It heats up the body’s core temperature which took a quick trip down.
Jump, do not dive. A past participant, then in his teens, at one of these events said that he actually passed out upon hitting the water head first. It was sinking to the bottom of the pool that woke him back up. While it is fun, also be very aware of how your body is reacting to the cold, what people around you are doing, and if there is anyone near you in distress. If there is, make sure to help them out.
I did a plunge once. My husband took a photo of me mid-jump as my toe hit the water. It looks like I am screaming, which I was, and in pain, which I wasn’t. I spent exactly three minutes in the water. It was about 32 degrees in the water, and 36 degrees when I stepped out of the pool. The four-degree difference almost felt like a heat wave. It was a Bucket List item of mine checked off. Am I glad I did it? Oh, yeah! Will I do it again? Probably not.
Here are the local Polar Bear Plunges benefiting Special Olympics Tennessee:
January 7, 2023
SportsCom in Murfreesboro
January 21, 2023
River Bluff Park in Ashland City
Cost: $ 30 to $50
February 4, 2023
Jimmy Floyd Family Center in Lebanon
February 25, 2023
Nissan Stadium in Nashville
Cost: $50 to $75