The Annual Polar Bear Swim

Winter swimming (zimní plavání) in Czech Republic

On Saturday, December 26th the 69th annual Christmas competition of hardiness swimmers will take place on the Vltava river. The event will take place on Slovansky ostrov near the National Theater. There will be three swimming routes of varying lengths: 100 meters, 300 meters and 750 meters.

The event will begin at 8:45 with a presentation that will go until 10:00. From 11:00 the swimming will begin, with those swimming the 750 meter route starting at 11:15 and the rest swimming at 11:40. At 12:45 the results will be announced. The winners of the 750 meter route include three men and three women who will get prizes from the event sponsors.

Last year there was a record number of swimmers. The 290 men and women braved the river that had a higher than average temperature of 6.4°C. The fastest swimmer to swim 750 meters was Lenka Štěrbová who managed it in 9 minutes and 18 seconds. Out of the 84 participants of the longest route, 65 were men and 19 were women. A Czech-language calendar with winter swimming events can be found here.

Swimming in cold water is a popular sport that is said to be very healthy for the body if it is done correctly. Czechs are particularly keen on winter swimming, also known as polar bear swimming, and there is even a České otužilecké unii or the Czech 'Hardiness' Union. This club is brings together people who do long-distance swimming in extreme conditions as well as experienced 'Hardy' swimmers.

Anyone is welcome to join the club but it is strongly recommended to go to the doctor for a complex check-up and pass the stress tests. It is good to begin the training by taking cold showers in the morning starting at 30 seconds and build up the time to 3 minutes. It's best to begin taking cold in Spring time and begin swimming in rivers in the summer. It is the most common to start swimming twice a week. Those willing to join the club are warned that it is a dangerous sport and overestimating ones abilities can have serious health consequences and even death.

Many national traditions include participating in either winter swimming or a single polar bear plunge in a hole cut out of the ice. The health risks include shock if the person isn't used to being submersed in cold water. Shock can lead to hyperventilating which can cause drowning. Hypothermia is something that many fear when winter swimming, but the risk is minimum as it takes almost 30 minutes in zerow degree water for hypothermia to occur. There are also risks of cardiac arrest however this is unlikely if the person is healthy. Conditioning is a great way to build up resistance and experience more health benefits.

According to scientific studies, there are many health benefits to this sport. It helps reduce stress and fatigue as well as improve memory function and feelings of energy. It is also better for general health, including minimizing the chance of catching diseases, in particular in the upper respiratory tact. Even short term exposure to cold water relieves the body of stress.

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