Lately I’ve noticed that a surprising number of women in my network are plunging into frigid waters. Friends have shared photos of their early morning dips, wading into Lake Ontario, greeting the sun with linked arms, goosebumped skin and shivering lips. I’ve watched lovers rush into the North Atlantic on a crisp December day, exclaiming how the near-freezing water made them feel “focused” and “alive”.
People have been joining cold plunge fundraisers en masse, like the Conquer Your Comfort Zone event hosted by City Shred, or the Brainfreeze 2022 #BearItAll challenge that took place in multiple cities across Canada earlier this month. There are even those who’ve grown so fond of the system shock that occurs with cold immersion, that they’ve invested in tanks for their balconies and backyards, choosing to start their day with an icy cold submerge instead of a hot shower.
“If you can sit in a freezing cold bath for 2 minutes in the morning, that’s probably the hardest thing you’ll face that day,” says Casie Stewart, who started dipping in 2019. It was during the first year of the pandemic, when Stewart was isolating in Muskoka, that braving cold waters became more of a regular routine. “Cold water gives me mental clarity, and it’s great for inflammation and muscle recovery. It’s hard to explain the rush of energy you get, it’s incredible.”
Research has shown that submerging your body in cold water increases dopamine levels by 250 percent, which could be why many people find polar dipping an excellent mood booster.
Casie now has a 2x2x4 galvanized stock tank on her rooftop patio, for easy plunging, but also loves the thrill of racing into cold water with others. “I recently did a massive cold plunge at Woodbine Beach. It was exhilarating to face the cold with so many people.”
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For Maria Herman, the desire to test out frigid waters stemmed from an all-around love for swimming. “I have always been drawn to water. I did a self-imposed 54-lake challenge to commemorate my 54th birthday, which I also used as an opportunity to raise funds for CAMH. Getting into water changes my mental state immediately. If I’m feeling blue or cloudy, I know swimming will fix everything. I feel this way in warm and cold water,” says Maria, who is looking forward to joining hundreds of others on January 1st for the annual Polar Bear Dip off of Sunnyside Beach. “Cold water is easy, it’s fun and a great reboot. Freezing water, however, is a real challenge, and this is when I actually feel quite proud of myself. One year I had cuts all along my shins from breaking through the sharp ice. Getting in is a challenge, but I know I’m going to feel great when I get out.”
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If breaking through ice and bloody knees feels a bit too extreme, there are other ways to test out cold therapy.
Since 2006, Scandinave Spa has been inviting people to experience their therapeutic waters, which includes both hot and cold baths. “Cold immersion is a huge trend right now,” says Mylisa Henderson, co-owner of Scandinave Spa, Blue Mountain. “What we offer is not the same kind of extreme experience, but there are a lot of benefits. The endorphins that go through your body when you go from the hot environment to rinse in cold water, or take a roll in the snow, you’re boosting your heart rate, which generates warmth, and generates energy. That kind of kickstarting is key to boosting your immune system. It improves your mood and your brain function, reduces stress, and makes you feel happy. It boosts everything.”
The Nordic Cold Plunge is the deepest cold plunge at Scandinave Spa, with temperatures in the winter usually hovering around 7-10 degrees Celsius. “You can be in there for 5 seconds or stay there for 2 minutes. It’s really about what your body will allow you to do and your ability to calm your mind and calm your breathing,” says Henderson, adding that Scandinave also has other cool plunges that are a little more shallow, which are easier for beginners to dip in and out of.
If you’re curious, the easiest way to try cold therapy is from the comfort of home: experiment with blasting yourself with cold water at the end of your shower. Each day, try extending the period of time by a few seconds. “The more you practice, the more you can push yourself, just like any fitness program.”
Dare to test the waters?
The Toronto Polar Bear Club will host a dip on New Year’s Day at Sunnyside Beach. Funds raised will support Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre. And after two years of virtual dips, The annual Courage Polar Bear Dip will return to Coronation Park in Oakville on January 1st, with a goal of raising $100,000 for clean drinking water. On-site registration begins at 12:30PM; Dip at 2PM. More info here.
Photos from @City_Shred, a Toronto fitness community. See upcoming winter events here.