Cold-Water Swimming Is Not Just for Crazy Polar Bears

Polar Bear Plunge
Cold-water swimming boosts your immune system and provides stress reduction and resiliency by shocking your system. Many studies have found that cold water swimming de-stresses the body not only physically, but also mentally. It can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine — neurotransmitters that can help reduce depression. Many cold-water swimmers have been able to increase their life expectancy and overall quality of life. The intense shock of the system increases antibodies and keeps your body alert. It boosts your immune system by increasing your white blood cell count. It increases blood circulation. In a warm environment, your veins are enlarged or vasodilated, but when you hit the cold, your veins vasoconstrict. However, the same amount of blood flows through your more restricted veins, arteries and capillaries, forcing a clean-out with the blood flowing through restricted openings. Therefore, it is a great cleanser for your circulation system.


Given all these benefits, I decided to join the Polar Bear Club in Coney Island, the oldest cold-water swimming club in North America. What an invigorating way to start the year. People ask, “How do you get past the initial shock where every cell in your body is telling you to get out of this abnormal environment?” Once you stabilize your breathing, you reach a calmer state. But after 10 minutes, you need to get the hell out of the water to prevent hypothermia. On colder days, I swim as fast as I can in order to stay warm. After 5 minutes in frigid waters, I come out of the swim feeling so alert. There’s just such clarity — almost like a new dimension.


Polar Bear Plunge - Thermalism
Thermalism at home


A friend recently asked, “What if you’re not a Polar Bear? Is there a way to reproduce the health benefits?” You can easily implement this “thermalism” at home to achieve a similar effect. Take a warm shower, turn the dial to extreme cold, and stay there for 15 seconds. Repeat this cycle three times, staying under the cold water for as long as you can, increasing the time under the cold water with each cycle.
What are you waiting for? The Polar Bear Club meets every Sunday at 1 pm during the cold months, so come join us! Or practice “thermalism” at home.



Robert Henry