Dare to take the polar plunge in Finland
Come winter, some 150,000 swimmers around Finland brave the icy waters.
As frigid as it may seem, swimming or dipping in icy water regularly through the winter is actually good for the soul. The cold shock of an icy dip increases endorphin production in the brain, which can give swimmers a euphoric sense of achievement. Some say that this rewarding feeling makes the sport strangely addictive.
Research shows that keen winter swimmers also enjoy many health benefits, ranging from lower blood pressure and enhanced blood circulation to better cold tolerance. “In surveys, swimmers have also reported that they feel less stress, sleep better, and suffer much less from colds, flu, and rheumatic or arthritic problems,” says Hanna Okkonen of the Outdoor Association of Finland.
With more than 150,000 hardy devotees, ice swimming in Finland is nothing to balk at.
“There are more than 200 registered winter swimming venues around Finland, including many maintained by popular local clubs,” says Okkonen. “Since 1989, the Outdoor Association of Finland has coordinated national championships, including 25-metre and 50-metre breaststroke and freestyle events as well as popular 4 X 25-metre relay races.
4 x public dips
1. Löyly is a stylish seaside restaurant with its own quayside sauna complex where swimmers brave the chilly waters of the Baltic in all seasons.
2. Just under the SkyWheel and a snowball’s throw from Market Square, Allas Sea Pool has a heated pool and a seawater pool as well as a café.
3. For a quintessential Finnish sauna and swimming experience, head out to Kuusijärvi, not far from Helsinki Airport, where you can try a traditional smoke sauna and dip in an ice hole cut into a small lake surrounded by scenic snow-clad forests.
4. The island of Uunisaari, linked by bridge or ferry to Helsinki’s Kaivopuisto Park, boasts a sauna that is open to visitors on Sundays throughout the year – with a bathing beach and a cosy café for chilling out after a chilly dip.
Text Fran Weaver
Photos Hernan Patiño