Epiphany – one of the most revered church holidays in Russia – is strongly connected with the ritual of swimming in ice-cold water. Orthodox Christians traditionally go to rivers or lakes because it is believed that water turns holy on Epiphany. Some people decide to dive into ice holes and swim in ice-cold water to be purged of all sins. What is a medical point of view on this ritual?
The idea of ice swimming is quite a daring one. However, ice swimmers say that swimming in the ice-cold water decreases the risk of cold-related and other diseases. Moreover, some of them say that they took their first dive at the time when they had flu or quinsy and recovered the next day.
Medics have a very simple explanation to this phenomenon. When a human being dives into ice-cold water, the adrenal glands release a lot of adrenalin – the hormone which helps the body handle the extreme conditions.
Adrenalin lowers the pain sensitivity, makes the heart beat faster, improves the blood filling of internal organs and the brain, activates the immune system. Experienced ice swimmers dive into ice-cold water for only a couple of minutes, and that is not incidental.
When submerged in cold water, the body has all of its reserve forces involved, which allows to cope with many problems. Doctors say that ice swimming improves the immune protection, produces the prophylactic effect for the respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive systems, refines sleep and metabolism.
It is a proved fact that cold is extremely important in the prophylactic of premature aging. Endorphins produce the effect of happiness: many ice swimmers say that they can feel harmony with the environment for at least several hours.
In winter time, the temperature of the water in rivers and lakes is only a couple degrees over. If a person intends to take a first dive, he or she is supposed to stay in the water for 10-15 seconds. A longer period of time can be life-threatening.
Ice swimming is extremely stressful, although the stress is positive. Therefore, anyone, willing to brace ice cold waters, is supposed to take a reasonable approach to the initiative and consult a doctor.
Any form of cold water treatment is strictly forbidden during cold allergy, gynecological diseases, tuberculosis and kidney diseases.
An ice-cold dive is not recommended for those having heart ailments, hypertension, cerebrovascular diseases and other serious heart and brain-related ailments.
The majority of pediatricians do not recommend ice swimming for children. The hormonal system of children is too weak to overcome such a serious stress.