Plunge Like a Polar Bear Into the New Year

Posted by Safeco December 15, 2014
Polar Bear Plunge events across the nation raise money for charity.

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 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, the polar bear plunge is a worldwide phenomenon – and not just for New Year’s.

Wikipedia estimates that 30,000 people brave the Netherland’s New Year’s plunge, known as “Nieuwjaarsduik.” And it happens in Canada and Russia, too. In 2014, Australian researchers in Antarctica even marked the June 22 solstice (winter for them) with a dip in an ice-filled pool.

Why? Some say there are health benefits, such as stress relief, increased energy and rejuvenation. But there can be dangers, too, 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.

Here are a few groups and events that take on the cold for a charitable cause:

  • Boston’s L Street Brownies
    Jumping into Boston Harbor on New Year’s Day since the early 1900s, this club raises money for scholarships and youth hockey by selling T-shirts and hot chocolate.
  • Coney Island Polar Bear Club in New York
    Another club with more than a century of plunging under its belt, this group raises money to send sick children to camp and for the Special Olympics. Can’t make it on New Year’s Day? This club swims in the Atlantic Ocean every Sunday from November through April.
  • Pittsburgh Polar Bear Club
    As part of their New Year’s Day plunge, members collect winter clothing for children and seniors.
  • Lakeview Polar Bear Club in Chicago
    Members of this club take an icy dip in Lake Michigan to raise money for needy families.
  • Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge
    The largest polar bear plunge in the nation, this event – also known as “Plungefest” and “Plungapalooza” – draws more than 10,000 annually and raises money for the Special Olympics at Sandy Point State Park.

Of course, if you’re not up for participating, these and other 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.

Topics: Holidays

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