Ice baths during a lunch break

SVEN BURMAN
February 18 2021 SVEN BURMAN
What do you do on your lunch break on a freezing cold day in January? Lying on the couch, going for a walk, or maybe taking an ice bath in the local river? In theory, the latter does not sound like the best of ideas. To undress only when the thermometer shows -15 degrees goes against all human reason and sense. But for John and Maia, who takes cold baths regularly, it is the given lunch activity.

FIRST ICE BATH OF THE WEEK

The snow creaks under my shoes as I stroll into the snow-covered driveway. In front of me stands a beautiful white 1920's house with green window frames. The house is located in a prime location, a stone's throw from Ursviksfjärden and with a large porch facing the water. John has settled down here on Alderholmen with his family in what was initially just a small summer cottage but has grown on all levels and become a residential building.

The past few days has given us a record amount of snow and everything is sparkling white. John has shoveled a passage that extends from the driveway, across the plot down towards the shoreline and the edges of the aisle reach us to the chest. Something that makes me think of Vildmarksvägen in Stekenjokk when it is shoveled in the spring. We are on our way to this week's first lunch bath, which we traditionally take together with Maia.

 

BARE LEGS AND A ROBE

- Hello! What a day, Maia shouts, are you ready?
She lives two houses away and comes walking along the snowmobile track that connects the two plots. We all have about the same equipment on; bathrobe, hat, gloves and warm lined shoes. Or almost at least. John chose bath slippers.

As we walk the last bit, past the sauna and out on the ice where the river and the sea meet, I ask Maia to tell me about her relationship to cold baths.

- I actually took my first ice bath in February last year. It was a strong experience. I knew that it would be cold, but not that it would affect me in so many ways and that the effect would last for the rest of the day. It was an unexpected but positive experience. Now, a year later, there is a big difference though. I feel that the body responds better and does its thing. Now I can enjoy the cold bath more as I know how the body reacts.

A NEW GENERATION WINTER SWIMMER

In theory, it may not sound like the best of ideas. A winter bath. To undress when the thermometer shows -15 degrees goes against the human instinct for survival. Even though ice baths has received a real boost in the last decade, it is not a new invention. People have taken cold baths in the Nordic countries, Russia and North America for centuries and the health effects have now begun to be backed up by science, and practitioners have been rejuvenated.

We are squinting at the low sun that is reflected in the white fresh snow, when we go down to the hole in the ice. Or rather the freezer. For a couple of years now, John has let a top-fed freezer box without a bottom freeze in the ice.

- Then it will always be easy to bathe, he explains with a quirky smile on his face.
- You just lift the lid and step in, and the water never freezes. This year we have also made a children's box where we made sure you can stand on the bottom and only drilled holes in the sides, so that the children can safely step in and out of themselves.

THE BODY'S ANSWER TO THE COLD WATER

John is the one with the most experience of us all. He has been ice bathing and swimming for many years. I take the lead and step down into the freezing water and ask him to tell me what is happening in my body.

- At first, the body and brain react with panic, as if it were life and death. It tries to do everything it can to protect the vital organs and moves blood from the hands and feet to the heart, lungs and brain. At the same time, it gives out lots of stress-reducing hormones.

Even though I have been taking ice baths for several years, I always have a hard time controlling my breathing for the first 15-20 seconds, but after half a minute I can feel a wonderful calm.

- Nice, says John when I've been in the water for about a minute. Now you're beginning to gain control of the situation, and your body works actively to warm you from within. Your heart rate drops again. It feels pretty good, right?

After just over two minutes in the water, it feels really comfortable. I get up and Maia gets ready. She puts her bathrobe in reach on the sheepskins on the bench between the freezers and I ask her why she is taking cold baths.

TWO MINUTES THAT CHANGE THE REST OF THE DAY

- Well, I'm a health freak, she says and laughs, I go on all in this stuff that is said to be good for the body. Then she steps into the water, gathers herself, and continues:

- No, but I actually do it mainly for my mental well-being. I need a strengthening kick and I really feel invincible after an ice bath. An effect that lasts for the rest of the day.

She breathes deep and controlled breaths and has her eyes fixed on the Sundgrund bridge. Personally, I feel how the heat that the body generates from within the depths continues to warm me despite the day's minus degrees and the fact that I'm only wearing a bathrobe. I'm not freezing.

- I've noticed that the experience is different from time to time, Maia reports from below the water. It probably depends a lot on what the day has looked like before. Right now it feels great, she says and smiles and closes her eyes.

ALDERHOLMENS ICEMAN

When Maia gets up, only John is left. Alderholmen's Iceman. He has been wearing a bathrobe and bath slippers on the sea ice for 15 minutes before it has been his turn to slide into the icy water.

He takes a couple of deep breaths before stepping into the water. He has long since trained away the body's ancient and natural reaction and looks almost incomprehensibly pleased. Continues to breathe calmly.

How long should you really stay in? asks Maia, who put on her bathrobe and shoes and landed on the bench next to John and the hole.

- I usually stays in for at least two minutes when I take an ice bath. That is what is needed to really benefit from the health effects of cold bathing, but depending on how the body feels and reacts, I can stay in longer. Last spring I lay in the water for 10 minutes but then it was + 5 ° C in the air, spring was calling and the sun was shining, John says. Today it actually felt quite warm in the water, says John and laughs and stirs a little with his hand among the ice crystals in front of him.

BEGIN ON THE REST OF THE DAY

The clock strikes 12.20 when John steps up and all three of us put on bathrobes and dry shoes.

We say goodbye to each other before we walk home to our home offices, fulfilled and alert, and I think to myself: 'Wonder how many more people bathed in Skellefteå this lunch?' It is not at all unusual for Skelleftebor, living by the sea, the rivers or one of the municipality's 1500 lakes to keep the ice open during the winter, and take an ice bath when the sun shines like today.

 


Tips for safe cold baths

  • Never bathe alone
  • Never bathe if you are intoxicated.
  • Never bathe if you are ill, on medication or have heart problems. If in doubt, talk to your doctor.
  • Hurry slowly. Go from cold showers to short dips to get your body used to the cold.
  • Breathe calmly in the water. You can prepare yourself by breathing exercises to be able to take control when the body reacts to the cold water.


Winter swimming

Skellefteå's fascination with swimming in ice cold waters has also resulted in regular winter swimming competitions. Participants often compete in 0.1 degree "warm" water, at distances from 25 meters to 200 meters in the disciplines of breaststroke and freestyle. The competitions are held annually in early February.