(GoHealthier.com) – Each year, tens of thousands of people in colder winter regions worldwide participate in a shocking tradition: They celebrate the New Year by plunging themselves into ice water.
There are a few possible benefits to swimming in the frigid temperatures, but the potential risks should keep some people bundled up and on the sidelines. Here’s what everyone should know about the Polar Bear Plunge.
In some regions, the “Polar Bear Plunge” has become a tradition, with some participants even claiming invigorating health benefits. This winter health trend may not be the best choice of activity for everyone, however. A few health risks actually make it dangerous for some people. The biggest threats are drowning, cold shock and hypothermia. See the article below for more on why cold water swims could be risky.
Check Out the Risks of This Winter Health Trend.
Hazards of Cold Water
Exposure to cold water (below 59 degrees Fahrenheit) is a mixed bag. Coldwater immersion has a handful of benefits that include improved recovery after exercise, reduced inflammation, and fever control.
It also likely contributes to numerous deaths each year. People who are physically fit, larger in build, and carrying healthy amounts of body fat are less likely to suffer any complications, but no one is immune to these potential threats:
- Nerve block, a natural response to extreme cold, deadens signals to the extremities and weakens the muscles. This complication can begin within the first minute of swimming in cold water and may render a person unable to keep their head above the water’s surface.
- Cold shock is a response some people have to sudden cold water immersion. It causes hyperventilation and uncontrollable gasping, making it impossible to hold the breath and puts sufferers at risk of drowning.
- Heart attacks can occur due to conflicting signals that can trigger dangerous arrhythmias and changes in heart rate. Cold shock may cause sudden cardiac death in at-risk groups.
People interested in participating in their local Polar Bear Plunge absolutely should clear the activity with their doctors beforehand. Most of us are probably fine to join in, but this is one situation where an ounce of prevention could be life-saving.
Responding to Emergencies
Despite taking all the right precautions, emergencies sometimes occur during these types of events; a fast and appropriate response may make the difference between life and death.
The Canadian Red Cross has a few tips to keep everyone as safe as possible:
- Have “spotters” watching out for swimmers in distress.
- Participants should wear warm clothes until the moment they go into the water, and they should wear water boots to protect their feet from ice and jagged rocks.
- Make sure no one stays in the cold water for longer than 2 minutes.
- Have a towel and dry clothes waiting; all participants should dry off and change as quickly as possible after exiting the water.
Get immediate medical care for anyone showing signs of moderate to severe hypothermia. Moderate symptoms include confusion and weak or intermittent shivering along with impaired speech, judgment, and coordination. Hypothermia is severe when shivering has stopped, breathing has slowed or seemingly stopped, and the person has become unresponsive.
Some potentially dangerous practices die hard, while others can persist despite the risks. People with preexisting health conditions, especially those with cardiovascular issues, probably want to sit this one out. The boasting rights might be huge, but they’re not worth the potential tragedy.
~Here’s to a Healthier Life!
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