Happy Polar Bear Swim Day: Why Do People Take The New Year Plunge In Winter?

Happy Polar Bear Swim day! If you weren’t aware, New Year’s Day, or January 1, is the day when many people worldwide plunge in freezing cold water for a traditional winter swim. It’s a celebratory practice associated with the New Year holiday, but why do people take this dive and expose themselves to extreme temperatures? Just how did Polar Bear Swim day and other arctic swimming feats begin and why do they take place on New Year’s Day? Is this really a healthy or even happy way to spend New Year’s Day? Let’s take a look at the history of the Polar Bear Swim plunge and why it is a popular winter event that takes place across the globe.

Details on how the first Polar Bear Swim day emerged aren’t well documented, but one of the earliest records of an organized Polar Bear Plunge or Swim Club traces back to 1903 and Coney Island in New York. Bernarr Macfadden founded the Coney Island Polar Bear Club in 1903 and he did so believing that the cold, ocean temperatures would bring health and rejuvenation to the body. According to the Bernarr Macfadden official website, he was a health advocate, teacher, author, bodybuilder, and publisher. He wrote extensively on health and believed that by keeping the body fit and healthy, you could prevent illness and disease.

Macfadden seemingly was ahead of his time as the practice of using cold or ice for healing is now known as cryotherapy and is regarded as an extremely therapeutic practice. According to Florida Hospital, cryotherapy is becoming a viable treatment for cancer.

“Cryotherapy is a procedure that involves killing cancer cells by freezing them and surrounding them with ice crystals. Tiny needles are placed directly into the tumor then argon gases are passed through the needles and exchanged with helium gases. This causes a freezing and warming cycle. A urethral warming catheter keeps the urethra warm throughout the procedure to prevent the urethra from freezing. For prostate treatment, the needles are often inserted using transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) guided technology.”

Canada started their own Polar Bear Swim club in 1920, and holds its annual swim each New Year’s Day on Jan. 1.

As the Polar Bear Swim Plunge is a popular event in the United States, it’s extremely popular in the Netherlands where it goes by the name Nieuwjaarsduik (New Year’s dive). More than 20,000 people are estimated to participate in Nieuwjaarsduik each year.

Some people feel that by braving the icy waters each New Year’s Day, you are essentially preparing your mind to conquer any challenges, obstacles, or tasks that may be ahead. Those who can successfully defeat the Polar Bear plunge will have no problem conquering other issues throughout the year. Whether it is for health, tradition, or just for communal fun and sport, the Polar Bear plunge is here to stay. It is a tradition that has crossed borders and is participated in on a global scale.

If you didn’t participate in this year’s Polar Bear Swim Day, have no fear. Find your local Polar Bear Swim club and join. Once you’re a member, you can be sure to make the event next New Year’s Day!

Happy Polar Bear Swim Day!

[Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]