Swedish westcoast, iced seas, January 2010

After several weeks of snowfall and -15 C along the Swedish westcoast.
Photo C M Cordeiro-Nilsson © 2009

It has been several weeks of snowfall and a constant -15 C in Sweden, though this week has warmed to a -8 C. Nonetheless, the temperatures have resulted in a blanket of white on land and an ice capped sea that is currently perfect for the Scandinavian sauna tradition that comes with winter swimming.

Swedish westcoast, iced seas 2, January 2010

A clear sun filled sky and a helping ladder aren’t enough to temp me into these freezing waters!

Winter swimming or Ice Swimming is a sport that is not confined to Scandinavia, but rather enjoys popularity from Russia to China and the USA. In Harbin, China, Polar Bear swimming became popular in the late 1940s, where swimming in up to -35 C water is believed to have a host of health benefits including stress relief, keeping the mind more alert and keeping skin looking younger.

Being tropical born, I’ve had the pleasure of my ears painfully numbing over once during a summer swim in Sweden, where the sea was a cozy 18 C. The experience was so disorientating to me that I felt it took forever coming to the surface after that 3 m board dive off a rock! So, temping as Polar Bear swimming sounds, I think I’ll take a rain check on that till I know for sure that a sauna is just 4 ft away from ice cold water to toasting warm!

Swedish westcoast 3, January 2010

At water’s edge.

Swedish westcoast, low sun, January 2010

Low sun, clear skies and long shadows.

For those interested in winter swims, River Swimming contains tips and advice for beginners from the more experienced and enthusiastic of the sport. And as I suspected, one needs to build up a level of tolerance, beginning with swimming in cold water in the summer and autumn before attempting any extreme temperature swims in the winter. Not going too far and keeping warm after the winter swim are also important, otherwise you’d be prone to feeling sick thereafter, if the temperature of body core drops too much.

Norwegian Forest Cat, in winter -15 C outdoors in Sweden

At least someone’s comfy in -15 C anyway! Though I doubt he’ll be taking a swim soon.

And if you manage to comfortably swim during the winter, Bernarr MacFadden who founded the Polar Bear Club in New York in 1903 and touted as the “Father of Physical Culture” pointed out in the early 1900s that swimming in lakes and rivers in winter helped boost the immune system and was a natural cure for depression. He also proved that catching a cold or pneumonia by swimming in cold water was a myth, though contracting hypothermia is possible if you stayed in the cold water too long.

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