Come wintertime, polar plunges are sponsored by various organizations. Such events may serve as fundraisers for club operations or to help needy individuals, while others may simply be efforts to fend off cabin fever.
The largest plunge in the United States is the Plungapalooza in Maryland, which includes 12,000 swimmers, all of whom are there to raise funds for the Special Olympics.
Polar bear swims are not for the faint of heart, and even the most stalwart (and cold-tolerant) plunger can employ a few strategies to make the swim a success.
• Prepare in advance. Build up your cold tolerance in the bathtub or shower. Cold water may cause some people to hyperventilate.
• Exercise caution if you have a heart condition.
• Walk slowly into the water. Rather than running and diving in, slow enter the water to acclimate your body to the cold and mitigate some of the shock.
• Make it a brief stint. Only stay in the water for a few minutes. Doctors say that cold water incapacitation can begin within five minutes of entering the water.
• Bring along warm clothes. You’ll need to warm up quickly after the plunge. A terry cloth bathrobe, thick wool socks, heavy sweater and a hat can help restore body heat.
• Avoid alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can give off a false feeling of warmth and heat in the body, advises Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani at Indiana’s Ball State University. Warming up with some scotch is not advisable before or after the plunge.
If health ailments do not preclude a person from plunging, it can be an exciting way to spend a few wet minutes.