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Winter swimming is the activity of swimming during the winter season, typically in outdoor locations (open water swimming) or in unheated pools or lidos. Many winter swimmers swim with standard swimming costumes rather than with wetsuits or other thermal protection. The activity may or may not involve freezing water, depending on the geographical location and the local temperature. Famous winter swimmers are Lynne Cox and Lewis Gordon Pugh.
Ice swimming is swimming in a body of water with a frozen crust of ice, and may be synonymous with winter swimming in colder countries. This requires either breaking the ice or entering where a spring keeps the water from freezing over. This may also be simulated by a pool of water at 0 °C, the temperature at which water freezes.
Maintaining the hole in the ice
One way that the hole is maintained at regular ice swimming places is with a pump that forces the water to circulate under the hole, preventing ice from forming. Small ice-holes can also be kept open by keeping a lid over the hole to prevent ice forming.
Most ice swimming places also use a specific heated "carpet" going from the locker rooms to the ice-hole, both to make walking to the hole more pleasant and for safety as otherwise the water dripping from returning swimmers would freeze and create a dangerously slippery surface to walk on.
In Finland, Northern Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia the ice swimming tradition has been connected with the sauna tradition. Unlike dousing, it is not seen as an ascetic or religious ritual, but a way to cool off rapidly after staying in a sauna and as a stress relief.
Ice swimming (avantouinti) on its own is especially popular in Finland. There is an Avantouinti Society, and swimming holes are also maintained by other groups such as the Finnish skiing association (Suomen Latu). The Finnish Sauna Society maintains an avanto for sauna goers.
There are lots of places where you can swim without sauna in Finland during winter. Helsinki has several places for avantouinti, with dressing-rooms and sometimes with saunas. There is also a number of ice swimming and winter sauna locations around Tampere.
Famous locations include the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, London, and Highgate Ponds in Hampstead. The largest fresh water pool in the UK is the Tooting Bec Lido in South West London which is home to the South London Swimming Club. The pool is 100 yards in length, i.e. nearly twice as long as an Olympic pool. As the winter approaches and the water temperature drops then swimmers stay in for less and less time, swimming just one or two widths rather than several lengths. Races take place all year including on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
There are some clubs where people swim all year in a pool, a lake, or a river. Locations are Bruges, Boom, Dendermonde, Wachtebeek, Theux and Huy. The most famous race is across the Meuse river each last Sunday of February since 1963.
In Harbin, northern China, many ice swim in the Songhua River. Also Jinan province is a place of annual winter swimming festival. The big event is swimming across lake Daming about 300 meters.
There are strong traditions for ice swimming and dousing with cold water in Russia. They are done for health benefits, as a ritual of the Orthodox Church for the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and for sports. Such club members are called "walruses" (Russian: моржи) and "polar bears".
The members of Canadian and American "polar bear clubs" go outdoor bathing or swimming in the middle of winter. In some areas it is unusual or ceremonial enough to attract press coverage. "Polar bear plunges" are conducted as fund-raisers for charity, notably the Special Olympics. Cosmo Kramer briefly joins a New York polar bears club in the sitcom Seinfeld.
The oldest ice swimming club in the United States is the Coney Island Polar Bear Club of Coney Island, New York, who hold an annual polar plunge on New Year's Day as well as regular swims every Sunday from November to April.
Winter swimming may contribute to better general well-being. When compared to a control group on the profile of mood states rating scale, winter swimmers experience less stress and fatigue and more vigor. They report to have a better memory function, better mood and feel more energetic, active and brisk. Swimmers who suffer from rheumatism, fibromyalgia or asthma report that winter swimming relieves pain.
There are indications that winter swimmers do not contract diseases as often as the general population. The incidence of infectious diseases affecting the upper respiratory tract is 40% lower among winter swimmers when compared to a control group. Short term exposure of the whole body to cold water produces oxidative stress, which makes winter swimmers develop improved antioxidative protection.
Conversely, it is quite possible that none of these statistics is remotely caused by winter swimming, and instead traits like "vigorousness" are positively correlated with people who jump into freezing water.
- Ice bath
- Cold shock response
- Cold water dousing
- Polar bear plunge
- Stunt swimming
- Marathon Swimming
- Open Water Swimming
- Daily News of Open Water Swimming
- "Winter swimming". Tampere.fi. May 22, 2007. Archived from the original on Jun 08, 2008.
- Huttunen, Pirkko; Kokko, Leena; Ylijukuri, Virpi (2004). "Winter swimming improves general well-being". International Journal of Circumpolar Health 63 (2): 140–144. doi:10.3402/ijch.v63i2.17700. PMID 15253480.
- Siems, W. G.; Brenke, R.; Sommerburg, O.; Grune, T. (1999). "Improved antioxidative protection in winter swimmers". QJM: an International Journal of Medicine 92 (4): 193–198. doi:10.1093/qjmed/92.4.193.
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