Winter swimming is an extreme sport practiced in Raahe, Finland and other Nordic countries, known to improve physical and mental well-being. When the ocean and lakes freeze over, people cut a hole in the ice and jump in the bone-chilling water without wetsuits. They spend there from a few seconds to one minute, then get out to warm up. People who have done it many times and whose body has got used to extreme temperatures can spend more time in the icy water.
While it is called winter swimming, most people do not swim but just dip their bodies in the icy lake. A short dip is enough to cause an endorphin rush and an immune system boost. Some people may swim in small circle then, as their body acclimates, take on longer swims. Keep reading to learn about the benefits and risks of winter swimming and how to start doing it.
Winter swimming comes with several health benefits. It is said to strengthen the immune system, improve blood circulation and help the body burn more calories. A dip in the icy water causes an endorphin and serotonin rush that lift up your mood and make you feel happy while minimizing stress.
It has also been shown to promote healing and decrease inflammation. Moreover, being out in nature, even for a couple of minutes, has a great soothing effect. Beyond health benefits, winter swimming is a social sport, helping you meet new friends during your swims.
You have to make sure your body is fully prepared before trying winter swimming. There are some risks linked to this extreme sport. The temperature shock and panic can cause hyperventilation characterized by rapid and deep breathing. This eventually can make you feel breathless. Another risk is cold incapacitation. As you dwell in water, you may find it hard to move your limbs.
Hypothermia is also a big concern but it occurs after 15 to 30 minutes spent in freezing water. Most swimmers spend only a few minutes in icy water. If you have heart or respiratory conditions or high blood pressure, ask your doctor if you can try winter swimming.
How to start winter swimming
Do you want to give winter swimming a try? Here are some tips to help you have a good start:
1. Don’t go alone
Swimming alone in a freezing lake is safe as long as you are an experienced winter swimmer. If you are a newbie, you are better off joining a local ice swimming community or go for your first swim with your experienced friends.
2. Use proper gear
Keep your head and limbs warm by wearing a beanie and neoprene mittens and boots.
3. Go slow
Do not jump suddenly in icy water, especially if you have spent the last minutes in a warm place. Your best bet is to slowly immerse your body in the water so it can acclimate. Do not dunk your head, that’s only for experienced swimmers.
4. Don’t test your limits
If you are a beginner, spend in the icy water just as much time as your body can hold. It can be only a few seconds. Don’t force your body to stay longer. You can build endurance over time as you acclimate to low temperature water.
5. Prepare your after-swim gear
After you hop out of the lake, you need to warm your body. For that, prepare a set of dry and thick clothes and a hot drink. Getting to a sauna or sitting in your heated car helps too.
Where is Raahe’s winter swimming place located?
Raahe’s winter swimming area with its changing room buildings and docks is located near Pikkulahti beach. There are separate changing rooms for men and women in the building. The key to the changing room building can be picked up from Urheilutalo Raahela for a fee.
Everyone who has tried winter swimming agrees that there is nothing like it. Refreshing, challenging, energizing and addicting – these are just a few words used to describe the feeling of cold water on your skin.