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Every January, hundreds of Russians crack open thick river ice and plunge into the freezing water – without a wetsuit. They’re not the only ones enjoying a wild winter dip.
So we’re sending huge respect to the Russians who, every January, sledgehammer holes in frozen lakes and rivers and immerse themselves in the water to mark the Christian holiday of Epiphany. Emergency medical staff stand by. Oh, and it’s seen as an outrage to wear anything more than a swimsuit and goggles. In the Arctic Circle, in winter. Shudder.
There is definitely something beautiful about swimming in the open air, gazing at treetops and sky rather than a concrete roof. And it seems that winter swimming in open water is actually good for you – after the initial aargh. ‘In cold water, the ribcage contracts, which leads many swimmers to feel as though they can’t breathe,’ says Dr Mark Harper, keen sea swimmer and a member of the Outdoor Swimming Society. ‘Limbs soon become weak, swimming 25 metres can be an achievement, and it only takes a minute or two before the skin becomes a lurid purple-orange-red. That said, the joy of swimming without a wetsuit is the ultimate cold-water high: bringing a rush of endorphins and pure exhilaration. Winter swimmers frequently become addicted, because a two-minute swim can leave you feeling good all day.’ According to Harper, a cold swim increases your basal metabolic rate, meaning you burn off more calories afterwards. And reports of a more robust immune system are common among the winter-swimming community, which is growing in number overseas and in the UK.
Tempted? Open-air New Year’s Day swims are becoming increasingly popular at British seaside towns, including Whitmore Bay in Wales and Whitley Bay in Tyneside, with hundreds of enthusiasts, often in fancy dress, diving into the freezing-cold sea to raise money for charity. We’ll see you there.
Featured image © Levranii