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Dive On In! The Water’s Just… Freezing

In the middle of the summer, as we are stocking up on that lush, sun-generated heat, it seems safer to think about the growing trend of swimming in icy-cold water in the middle of winter. A sport that unites some of the Baltic countries. Which ones?

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boy bathing and swimming in the cold water of a lake or river among the ducks, cold therapy, ice swim with forest trees on background
Though perhaps not the most comfortable activity ever, cold plunges and ice baths have numerous health benefits for those brave enough to try. Photo: Michele Ursi / stock.adobe.com

Much is known and spoken about the benefits of thermal baths as well as sauna sessions. Humans naturally seem to gravitate towards the warm and pleasant. There is, however, a growing trend in the popularity of ice baths, which have been considered beneficial for centuries. Albeit, they seem to be received with significantly less enthusiasm (yaaay… let’s dunk in the lake and freeze our limbs! Anyone?)

The sole idea of immersing the body in water for health benefits is indeed incredibly old. In fact, did you know the word ‘spa’ is an acronym that stands for Latin ‘Sanus per Aquam’ – health through water? Some claim it can be traced to the times of ancient Egypt.

The father of medicine, Hippocrates, is also known for his theories of how hot and cold-water therapy may restore one’s health. He was all about the balance of the fluids, which he believed could be restored, amongst others, thanks to cold baths. Romans, whose Latin maxim has been mentioned previously, continued with the science of water, giving rise to hydrology.

Their famous thermal baths had rooms which are enveloped with the – cold – conspiracy of silence: the frigidarium – cold pools. A famous Chinese physician, Hua To, would also plunge his patients in cold water. And we could continue, giving further examples from history, which would testify to but one fact: for a very, very long time, cold water baths have been known to be good for you.

Jack Frost is on the way

Those who practice ice-water swimming swear by the multifold health benefits resulting from this ritual. We will touch upon them in a moment but for now, let’s take a look at where you can meet those brave Viking individuals who do not fear the cold.

It turns out that the culture of ice-water swimming has a strong presence worldwide. So much so that you can participate in Winter Swimming World Championships every two years. The event was first organized in the year 2000 in Helsinki, Finland. Circa 1500 people from 40 countries in the world attend this heartwarming event (if you are watching, that is), which made its way to the Three Seas Region in 2008 when Bled in Slovenia was hosting the event. It also made its way in 2012 to Jurmala in Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia, in 2018.

Competing once every two years did not seem quite enough. So why not turn it into an annual event? The International Winter Swimming Association is dedicated to promoting the benefits of winter swimming and hosts a yearly IWSA World Cup. And it is widely popular.

Ice bath: makes you healthy as a walrus!

Naturally, the geographical location may or may not provide favorable conditions to take on the winter swimming hobby. In the Three Seas Region, the northern, Baltic countries are the obvious choice for where to look for suspiciously happy, fearless swimmers when temperatures drop to about 0 degrees Celcius. Winter swimming clubs gather the admirers of this hobby in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. But you can also find them in Slovenia, Slovakia, Czechia, and Austria! In short – wherever the water temperature drops low in the winter months, you can come across enthusiasts of winter swimming.

And for a good reason! Swimming in cold water is said to stimulate the immune system. It is also believed to improve cardiovascular health, muscle tension, and blood pressure, help reduce chronic inflammatory conditions, and aid weight loss. After all – how often do you see a poorly walrus? Though, perhaps this particular animal isn’t the best example when it comes to weight loss evidence.

That might just be why the icy-ferocious swimmers call themselves walruses in Poland. In Latvia, they chose the slightly cuter nickname of ronis (seals). Whatever the name, though, joining such clubs is about more than just swimming. The members tend to socialize throughout the year, organize charity events or simply meet up to spend some quality time with a group of people sharing the same hobby. No wonder – since they are the masters of breaking the ice!

Weronika Edmunds

Holder of a DPSI in English Law and an MBA, she believes in lifelong learning. Her passion for theatre shaped her sensitivity to the spoken and written word, leading her to become a creative copywriter. She lives for words and knows how to pour life into otherwise lifeless wording. She likes to repeat after M. Ondaatje: “Words, Caravaggio. They have a power.”

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