Polar Bear Dips, or Polar (Bear Plunges as they’re also known), tend to take place on New Year’s Day. It involves a large group of mostly unclad individuals who willfully run into a freezing cold body of water outside (sometimes for charity).
While this sounds completely insane to some, to others it is a thrill and a rush. However, if you’re considering taking part in one this year, there are seven things you should know about the chilly tradition…
1. Pre-Screening is Recommended
As you may have guessed, jumping into frigid water in the winter can be a shock to your system—your heart, to be more precise. TIME magazine warns that if your family has a history of strokes or cardiac problems, you should probably get the all-clear from a doctor before diving in, so to speak.
The source notes the initial reaction to cold water is gasping for air, which puts more strain on the heart. However, if you have less than perfect heart health, you could experience discomfort that is alarming. “The blood vessels in the heart can constrict, leading to chest pains like angina or a heart attack,” adds the source.
2. Cold Water Boosts Immunity
You probably won’t be sticking around in the water for long while doing laps, but TheNextChallenge.org states that cold water swimming can actually be beneficial to your health.
The source cites findings by scientists in the Czech Republic that places willing subjects in cold water for an hour (that’s a lot longer than the average polar dip participant will brace the icy tides). After repeating the experiment 3-times per week, “They found significant increases in white blood cell counts and several other factors relating to the immune system,” it explains.
3. You Can Get a ‘Cold Water High’
The Outdoor Swimming Society explains that jumping into freezing water without a wetsuit as an insulator can lead to what’s known as a “cold water high,” which the source describes as “the pure exhilaration and rush of endorphins that you get from getting in.”
Endorphins are the same feel-good hormone you release when you’ve exercised for a while. And while there’s no chemical element to a cold water high, apparently you can get addicted to the feeling, according to the source, but the positive sensations from a cold swim can last all day, it adds.
4. It’s a Great Social Activity
One of the benefits of a Polar Bear Plunge is that you’re not doing it alone (and speaking of that, you should probably never swim alone—cold water or not). However, with a Polar Dip, you often have hundreds of people gathering in one place and the tense anticipation can spark camaraderie.
You’ll also surely high-five someone you don’t know after you pull yourself from the icy depths, and maybe meet the love of your life in the process? Okay, maybe that last point is going a bit far, but if you’re both willing to dive into freezing water together…
5. Bring a Towel(s)
One of the things that’s often as shocking as getting into cold water is getting out of it in cold weather. Think about how quickly you run for a towel sometimes when you’ve had a warm shower and are stepping into cooler air.
You’ll want to dry off relatively quickly to avoid freezing water on your skin and to help your body restore its core temperature. Bring a thicker dressing gown or some other snuggly clothes that are easy to slip into with shaking hands.
6. It’s a Great Hangover Cure
Chances are you took part in some New Year’s Cheer the night before, and you might be feeling a little foggy or have some cranial throbbing. While your instinct may to pop a couple of pain pills and just remain in bed all day, the Polar Dip is actually more effective, according to some.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is—although the rush of adrenaline might have something to do with it. Or, perhaps it’s so ridiculously cold that the drinks you had the night before are the last things on your mind. In any case, it’s being hailed as the only “natural” hangover cure in existence.
7. It Boost Libido
Remember when we mentioned earlier that you might meet someone special at a Polar Dip? Well, turns out you might subconsciously (or consciously) be feeling more amorous after jumping into cold water, adds TheNextChallenge.org.
The source cites a study that found participants subjects to cold baths had more production of testosterone (men) and estrogen (women). This not only boosts drive, but also apparently increases fertility in both genders, adds the source.