Polar Plunge Anyone?

Polar Plunge Anyone?

My Great Grandfather swam in the ocean every day of the year - not a bad effort through winter – although, he did live in Gisborne which is a little warmer than Dunedin.

Clearly, he was before his time - as the practice of ice baths and cold plunging is taking the world by storm – at least the wellness industry by storm – and I have been reading about the health benefits of cold plunges. 

Alongside this reading, my youngest child left home, so my husband (Kev) and I found ourselves as empty nesters – I have to say it’s quite fun having all this extra time and additional food in the fridge – definite benefits! 

As part of our empty-nest, mid-life transition, existential crisis – whatever – we have been discussing “how we want to live” and part of that “how” was living by the beach.  An unexpected opportunity came up and before we knew it – we bought and sold houses and bingo, found ourselves over the road from the beautiful Otago coast.

I was so excited that before we moved, I optimistically said to Kev:

“On my first day in our new house, I am going for a polar plunge.” 

My brain can be a little ADHD, or something – it’s like I forget I live in Dunedin and I forget that it’s winter and I forget that I am not the best at getting out of bed in the morning. 

On morning one in my lovely new warm house I lay in bed and listened to the ocean, thought to myself, “you gotta be joking,” rolled over and went back to sleep.

This was repeated for many more mornings until yesterday, which happened to be Kev’s birthday.  I thought it was appropriate to mark the occasion with a 6am dark and freezing polar plunge and for some reason, Kev agreed!

Holy heck – there are many sayings for extreme cold, brass monkeys and all that and to be fair, we honestly thought our feet might fall off before we made it to the first wave.

It is quite extraordinary how our bodies swing into gear when faced with extreme shock – limbs become secondary as blood and oxygen rushes to support vital organs.  I was getting almost comfortable at waist level and trying to talk myself into submerging my whole body when a rogue wave made the decision for me – the shock was so great I launched into hysterical laughter while Kev squealed like a tortured pig (sorry neighbours, imagine waking up to that kerfuffle).

I have friends who take a cold plunge every day and absolutely swear by how it makes them feel and I have to say, I felt great afterwards – and I am trying to talk myself into going again – but well, hmmmm…..

If you feel inspired, there are lots of ways to get your own free, cocaine-like endorphin rush, beach swimming, ice in your bath or even a few minutes in a cold shower. 

Here are some of the purported physical and mental benefits…some with quite a lot of science behind them, others less so…

Physical Benefits

  1. Reduced muscle soreness and inflammation:
    • Cold exposure constricts blood vessels and reduces metabolic activity, which can help decrease inflammation and swelling. This can be beneficial after intense physical exercise, aiding in faster recovery and less muscle soreness.
  2. Improved circulation:
    • Cold immersion forces blood vessels to constrict and then dilate, enhancing blood flow and circulation. This process helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients more efficiently to tissues, promoting healing and overall cardiovascular health.
  3. Enhanced immune function:
    • Regular exposure to cold water can stimulate the immune system, increasing the production of white blood cells and boosting overall immunity.
  4. Increased metabolism:
    • Cold exposure activates brown fat, a type of fat tissue that burns calories to generate heat. This activation can lead to an increase in metabolic rate and aid in weight management.
  5. Pain relief:
    • The numbing effect of cold water can provide temporary pain relief from injuries or chronic conditions such as arthritis by reducing nerve activity.

Mental Benefits

  1. Improved mood and reduced stress:
    • Cold exposure triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, leading to an improvement in mood. Additionally, it reduces levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, contributing to overall stress reduction.
  2. Enhanced focus and alertness:
    • The shock of cold water immersion stimulates the production of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that can enhance focus, attention, and mental clarity.
  3. Increased resilience and mental toughness:
    • Regularly engaging in cold plunging can build mental resilience, helping to better handle stress and adversity. The practice requires and strengthens mental discipline and can contribute to a sense of accomplishment and confidence.
  4. Reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety:
    • Some studies suggest that cold water immersion can have antidepressant effects, by affecting the monoamine neurotransmitters in the brain. The invigorating nature of cold water exposure may also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

There are risks!

Plunging the body into cold water does trigger a sudden, rapid increase in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure known as the cold shock response. The shock also places stress on the heart and makes it work harder, so it’s not necessarily recommended for people with heart disease – it’s a good one to check with your doctor or health practitioner.

All the best, Anna and Darcy.

If you would like to discuss any of this further, please contact Darcy or Anna (who you can contact at +64 27 599 2255 or +64 27 4861418 respectively) or via info@zesttwellness.com.

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