To plunge or not to plunge. That is the question for some as New Year’s Day approaches – and one best posed to a physician. Because, before taking the polar bear plunge into freezing cold water, you should first make sure your heart can handle it.
For others, the question is moot. They wouldn’t take the plunge, period.
Whether the polar bear plunge is a New Year’s Day tradition or just plain crazy depends on how you look at it. But, one thing’s for certain, it’s a worldwide phenomenon – and not just for New Year’s.
Wikipedia estimates that 30,000 people take part in the Netherland’s New Year’s dive, known as “Nieuwjaarsduik.” And it happens in Canada and Russia, and, in 2014, Australian researchers in Antarctica marked the June 22 solstice (winter for them) with a dip in an ice-filled pool.
Why? Some say there are health benefits to the plunge, such as stress relief, increased energy and rejuvenation. But there can be dangers, too, doctors say – particularly for people with a family history of stroke, aneurysm, blood pressure problems or hypertension. The cold water causes blood vessels to constrict.
But, they also do it for a good cause. In the U.S., polar bear plunges across the country raise money or collect goods to help others.
In Boston, one club, the L Street Brownies, has been jumping into Boston Harbor on New Year’s Day since the early 1900s. Through the sale of T-shirts and hot chocolate, they raise money for scholarships and youth hockey.
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club in New York has been around about as long, and members swim in the Atlantic Ocean every Sunday from November through April. Participants raise money to send sick children to camp and for the Special Olympics.
A New Year’s Day plunge with the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Club helps provide children and seniors with warm winter clothing. And, a plunge into Lake Michigan in Chicago with the Lakeview Polar Bear Club helps raise money for needy families.
However, the largest American plunge is the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, also known as “Plungefest” and “Plungapalooza” in Sandy Point State Park. The event, which draws more than 10,000 annually, takes place in January, February or even March, raises money for the Special Olympics.
Of course, if you’re not up for participating, all events happily welcome observers. And we wouldn’t blame you at all if you felt more comfortable on the sidelines.
If you do plan to plunge, be sure to seek your doctor’s advice first.
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