By Julia Pepler

The idea of jumping into an icy body of water gives me instant butterflies. More and more, I’ve heard of the health benefits of swimming in cold water. Whether or not those are true, I know one thing for sure: swimming in cold water provides unique opportunities to connect with local waterways and with your body in a new way.

A New Year's Day swim with my dad in Lake Ontario

There have been a few studies that link cold water swimming with reduced inflammation, pain reduction, and possibly even disease prevention. Cases have also been made on the effects cold water swimming can have in elevating mood and reducing stress or depression. In countries such as Finland, swimming in frigid lakes or the sea is considered “an everyday activity.” 

Finland is ranked the happiest country in the world, according to the World Happiness Report, and many believe the cold water tradition has something to do with that. Katja Pantzar, a Finnish-Canadian journalist, talks about how even though the weather can be similar in Finland and Canada, Finns seem to regard the cold in a different way, “When I moved to Finland, I noticed people seemed to get joy out of doing things that required a certain fortitude, like biking in -20 C. I also noticed their love for ice swimming.” And once she started joining in on cold water swims, she was hooked, “You tingle all over, you feel warm, and you start to feel good."

Cold water swimming can make you feel alive and invincible. That mix of adrenaline, burning, and exhilaration from plunging into an icy lake, river, or ocean is unparalleled. This seems to be the hardest part to describe, but for me, swimming in icy water makes me connect with my body and get out of my head. Rather than think about the past or the future, when I swim in cold water, I am totally in the present, feeling the sensation of cold water from my fingertips to my toes.

Chilly swim at Jericho Beach on a sunny March day

Swimming in cold water can also be a great way to connect with a lake, river, or ocean. From running into nearly frozen Lake Ontario on New Year's Day, to a dip in Joffre Lake’s glacial waters, or a sunny day swim at Jericho Beach in March, these special polar bear dips stand out in my memory like tall trees. Taking time to experience local waters in all seasons helps me check in on them and at the end of the day, gives me more appreciation for their many forms. 

At Swim Drink Fish we believe that the more we connect with local waters, the more likely we are to protect them. So will you try cold water swimming? You can find information about beaches close to you on Swim Guide, and share pictures from your swim with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Remember there are also dangers to swimming in cold water, a great rule of thumb is to only spend as many minutes in the water as the number of degrees in Celsius. So if the water temperature is 5 C, spend a maximum of 5 minutes swimming. Swim with a buddy and have some warm layers waiting for you for when you’re done. Happy swimming!

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