Are Polar Bear Plunges Good for the Heart?

Before you jump, consider the risks

Some take dips in freezing cold water for recreation, some to raise money and some for their health. Organizations sponsoring the plunges – called Polar Bear Plunges – promote benefits such as “a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity.”

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These benefits may not be accurate, however, and cardiologist David Frid, MD, believes they may even be risky for the heart.

Dr. Frid’s concerns

“The biggest problem I see with these clubs is that people participate in them without having made sure from a health perspective that it’s clear sailing,” Frid says. When people jump in cold water, their bodies go into “cold shock,” and they start gasping for air, putting a strain on the heart.

Frid also says that feeling of “euphoria” earned from enduring the freezing temperatures may not necessarily be good for you. Why?

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“When you go into the cold, it causes some constriction of the blood vessels in an effort to regulate your blood flow,” Frid says. Constriction of your blood vessels means 1) the heart has to work harder to pump blood to your body and 2) less blood flow to your heart.

Dr. Frid’s advice

No matter the reason for the swim, people with a family history of blood pressure problems, hypertension, or sudden cardiac death should be careful about Polar Bear Plunges, and be evaluated by a doctor first.

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