Winter swimming a 'common way of life' for this polar bear club

Community Dec 29, 2016 by Tamara Shephard Etobicoke Guardian

A polar bear and spirituality club is how they describe themselves.

Every Sunday throughout the winter, the Toronto Winter Swimming Club dips into Lake Ontario’s icy depths at Humber Bay Park West in Etobicoke.

Yaro Polowianiuk, 53, is a decade-long club member after taking part in an annual charitable New Year’s Day polar bear dip at Oakville’s Coronation Park.

“I like the way I feel after swimming. I feel energetic,” Polowianiuk said, clearly passionate about cold water. “I’m much healthier than I used to be.”

The club is world-renowned.

Club member Alla Kibzoun brought home a bronze medal from the 2012 Winter Swimming World Championships held that January in Jurmala, Latvia.

Watching a video of a 2015 club swim on its website, www.winterswim.ca, brings chills. The sky and the lake are a cold blue-grey. Canadian geese, white swans and ducks swim in the frigid waters, unaffected by the swimmers standing a few feet away at the water’s edge.

“There’s a very steady, nasty wind from the lake. It’s a very cold feeling,” Polowianiuk said. “You go completely red, almost like a lobster. The first time I jump in, it’s very short; in and out. I go back to the shore and do 20 to 25 pushups. Then I’m ready for another shot when I stay in longer.”

People’s tolerance of cold-water swimming varies widely. Still, none of them wear wetsuits.

“Some people go in only once, in and out. Other people go in and stay. One guy, a former firefighter, he can stay there for a long time. It’s very individual,” Polowianiuk said.

Not even Toronto’s cold weather alert on Sunday, Dec. 18, warning of -20 C with the wind chill, deterred the avid swimmers.

Getting undressed down to swimsuits is the greatest challenge, Polowianiuk said.

“Your mind is screaming, ‘It’s so cold. Don’t do it,’” he said. “But when you rush into the water, it comes with deep rewards. You don’t feel the cold. You feel adrenaline. You feel good.”

Polowianiuk said the frigid dips aid his work as a massage therapist.

“I noticed those aches and pains I had in my wrists, joints and back from my job all disappeared when I started swimming,” he said.

When massage clients come in with a cold or flu, he doesn’t get it, he added.

“There is no chance I will get it. It’s like water off a duck’s back,” he said. “I haven’t had a cold since I started swimming. I don’t take any flu shots. There’s no reason to get it.”

Dr. Greg Wells is a University of Toronto assistant professor of kinesiology and physical fitness who works as a faculty member at the university’s human physiology lab.

The scientific jury is out, Wells said, on whether cold-water exposure correlates to disease resistance.

In fact, there is little scientific research generally on the health risks and benefits of cold-water swimming, Wells said.

One of Wells’ grad students specifically studied the effect of cold-water immersion on inflammation.

“We found at the right temperature, for the right duration, cold water reduces inflammation,” Wells said. “In an acute case, like a sprained ankle, you put ice on it and it can relieve pain. But inflammation is necessary for healing. It’s a fine balance.”

Winter swimming isn’t for everyone.

Polowianiuk said he asks anyone eager to try it if they have any serious health issues.

“Whether we know it’s beneficial or not, it’s dangerous,” Wells said. “With the potential benefits come extreme risks. You need to take that into account when deciding whether or not to try it.

“If you’re sick or have chronic disease, jumping into very, very cold water is a very, very bad idea.”

A 2004 Finnish study published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health concluded winter swimming improves general well-being.

Tension, fatigue, memory and negative mood states in cold-water swimmers “significantly decreased” with the duration of the swimming period, the study reported.

“After four months, the swimmers felt themselves to be more energetic, active and brisk than the controls (people not in the study),” the study indicated, mirroring Polowianiuk’s experience.

Further, the study stated all swimmers who suffered from rheumatism, fibromyalgia or asthma reported that winter swimming had relieved their pain.

Those findings would not be news to the Toronto club. Most of its members hail from Russia, where cold-water swimming is a “very common way of life,” said Polowianiuk, a Belarusian from Poland.

Polowianiuk loathed the winter, but now he revels in its plummeting temperatures.

“I used to think ‘winter time is a drag. It’s too cold. I can’t take it,’” he recalled. “Now, I like it. I think, ‘Oh, this coming Sunday it’s going to be minus-whatever temperature. Perfect. Perfect.’

“Winter swimming totally changed my perspective. I love it. I think, ‘Why did I miss having this in my life for so long?’”

 

Winter swimming a 'common way of life' for Toronto polar bear club

U of T professor warns 'with the potential benefits come extreme risks'

Community Dec 29, 2016 by Tamara Shephard Etobicoke Guardian

A polar bear and spirituality club is how they describe themselves.

Every Sunday throughout the winter, the Toronto Winter Swimming Club dips into Lake Ontario’s icy depths at Humber Bay Park West in Etobicoke.

Yaro Polowianiuk, 53, is a decade-long club member after taking part in an annual charitable New Year’s Day polar bear dip at Oakville’s Coronation Park.

“I like the way I feel after swimming. I feel energetic,” Polowianiuk said, clearly passionate about cold water. “I’m much healthier than I used to be.”

The club is world-renowned.

Club member Alla Kibzoun brought home a bronze medal from the 2012 Winter Swimming World Championships held that January in Jurmala, Latvia.

Watching a video of a 2015 club swim on its website, www.winterswim.ca, brings chills. The sky and the lake are a cold blue-grey. Canadian geese, white swans and ducks swim in the frigid waters, unaffected by the swimmers standing a few feet away at the water’s edge.

“There’s a very steady, nasty wind from the lake. It’s a very cold feeling,” Polowianiuk said. “You go completely red, almost like a lobster. The first time I jump in, it’s very short; in and out. I go back to the shore and do 20 to 25 pushups. Then I’m ready for another shot when I stay in longer.”

People’s tolerance of cold-water swimming varies widely. Still, none of them wear wetsuits.

“Some people go in only once, in and out. Other people go in and stay. One guy, a former firefighter, he can stay there for a long time. It’s very individual,” Polowianiuk said.

Not even Toronto’s cold weather alert on Sunday, Dec. 18, warning of -20 C with the wind chill, deterred the avid swimmers.

Getting undressed down to swimsuits is the greatest challenge, Polowianiuk said.

“Your mind is screaming, ‘It’s so cold. Don’t do it,’” he said. “But when you rush into the water, it comes with deep rewards. You don’t feel the cold. You feel adrenaline. You feel good.”

Polowianiuk said the frigid dips aid his work as a massage therapist.

“I noticed those aches and pains I had in my wrists, joints and back from my job all disappeared when I started swimming,” he said.

When massage clients come in with a cold or flu, he doesn’t get it, he added.

“There is no chance I will get it. It’s like water off a duck’s back,” he said. “I haven’t had a cold since I started swimming. I don’t take any flu shots. There’s no reason to get it.”

Dr. Greg Wells is a University of Toronto assistant professor of kinesiology and physical fitness who works as a faculty member at the university’s human physiology lab.

The scientific jury is out, Wells said, on whether cold-water exposure correlates to disease resistance.

In fact, there is little scientific research generally on the health risks and benefits of cold-water swimming, Wells said.

One of Wells’ grad students specifically studied the effect of cold-water immersion on inflammation.

“We found at the right temperature, for the right duration, cold water reduces inflammation,” Wells said. “In an acute case, like a sprained ankle, you put ice on it and it can relieve pain. But inflammation is necessary for healing. It’s a fine balance.”

Winter swimming isn’t for everyone.

Polowianiuk said he asks anyone eager to try it if they have any serious health issues.

“Whether we know it’s beneficial or not, it’s dangerous,” Wells said. “With the potential benefits come extreme risks. You need to take that into account when deciding whether or not to try it.

“If you’re sick or have chronic disease, jumping into very, very cold water is a very, very bad idea.”

A 2004 Finnish study published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health concluded winter swimming improves general well-being.

Tension, fatigue, memory and negative mood states in cold-water swimmers “significantly decreased” with the duration of the swimming period, the study reported.

“After four months, the swimmers felt themselves to be more energetic, active and brisk than the controls (people not in the study),” the study indicated, mirroring Polowianiuk’s experience.

Further, the study stated all swimmers who suffered from rheumatism, fibromyalgia or asthma reported that winter swimming had relieved their pain.

Those findings would not be news to the Toronto club. Most of its members hail from Russia, where cold-water swimming is a “very common way of life,” said Polowianiuk, a Belarusian from Poland.

Polowianiuk loathed the winter, but now he revels in its plummeting temperatures.

“I used to think ‘winter time is a drag. It’s too cold. I can’t take it,’” he recalled. “Now, I like it. I think, ‘Oh, this coming Sunday it’s going to be minus-whatever temperature. Perfect. Perfect.’

“Winter swimming totally changed my perspective. I love it. I think, ‘Why did I miss having this in my life for so long?’”

 

Winter swimming a 'common way of life' for Toronto polar bear club

U of T professor warns 'with the potential benefits come extreme risks'

Community Dec 29, 2016 by Tamara Shephard Etobicoke Guardian

A polar bear and spirituality club is how they describe themselves.

Every Sunday throughout the winter, the Toronto Winter Swimming Club dips into Lake Ontario’s icy depths at Humber Bay Park West in Etobicoke.

Yaro Polowianiuk, 53, is a decade-long club member after taking part in an annual charitable New Year’s Day polar bear dip at Oakville’s Coronation Park.

“I like the way I feel after swimming. I feel energetic,” Polowianiuk said, clearly passionate about cold water. “I’m much healthier than I used to be.”

The club is world-renowned.

Club member Alla Kibzoun brought home a bronze medal from the 2012 Winter Swimming World Championships held that January in Jurmala, Latvia.

Watching a video of a 2015 club swim on its website, www.winterswim.ca, brings chills. The sky and the lake are a cold blue-grey. Canadian geese, white swans and ducks swim in the frigid waters, unaffected by the swimmers standing a few feet away at the water’s edge.

“There’s a very steady, nasty wind from the lake. It’s a very cold feeling,” Polowianiuk said. “You go completely red, almost like a lobster. The first time I jump in, it’s very short; in and out. I go back to the shore and do 20 to 25 pushups. Then I’m ready for another shot when I stay in longer.”

People’s tolerance of cold-water swimming varies widely. Still, none of them wear wetsuits.

“Some people go in only once, in and out. Other people go in and stay. One guy, a former firefighter, he can stay there for a long time. It’s very individual,” Polowianiuk said.

Not even Toronto’s cold weather alert on Sunday, Dec. 18, warning of -20 C with the wind chill, deterred the avid swimmers.

Getting undressed down to swimsuits is the greatest challenge, Polowianiuk said.

“Your mind is screaming, ‘It’s so cold. Don’t do it,’” he said. “But when you rush into the water, it comes with deep rewards. You don’t feel the cold. You feel adrenaline. You feel good.”

Polowianiuk said the frigid dips aid his work as a massage therapist.

“I noticed those aches and pains I had in my wrists, joints and back from my job all disappeared when I started swimming,” he said.

When massage clients come in with a cold or flu, he doesn’t get it, he added.

“There is no chance I will get it. It’s like water off a duck’s back,” he said. “I haven’t had a cold since I started swimming. I don’t take any flu shots. There’s no reason to get it.”

Dr. Greg Wells is a University of Toronto assistant professor of kinesiology and physical fitness who works as a faculty member at the university’s human physiology lab.

The scientific jury is out, Wells said, on whether cold-water exposure correlates to disease resistance.

In fact, there is little scientific research generally on the health risks and benefits of cold-water swimming, Wells said.

One of Wells’ grad students specifically studied the effect of cold-water immersion on inflammation.

“We found at the right temperature, for the right duration, cold water reduces inflammation,” Wells said. “In an acute case, like a sprained ankle, you put ice on it and it can relieve pain. But inflammation is necessary for healing. It’s a fine balance.”

Winter swimming isn’t for everyone.

Polowianiuk said he asks anyone eager to try it if they have any serious health issues.

“Whether we know it’s beneficial or not, it’s dangerous,” Wells said. “With the potential benefits come extreme risks. You need to take that into account when deciding whether or not to try it.

“If you’re sick or have chronic disease, jumping into very, very cold water is a very, very bad idea.”

A 2004 Finnish study published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health concluded winter swimming improves general well-being.

Tension, fatigue, memory and negative mood states in cold-water swimmers “significantly decreased” with the duration of the swimming period, the study reported.

“After four months, the swimmers felt themselves to be more energetic, active and brisk than the controls (people not in the study),” the study indicated, mirroring Polowianiuk’s experience.

Further, the study stated all swimmers who suffered from rheumatism, fibromyalgia or asthma reported that winter swimming had relieved their pain.

Those findings would not be news to the Toronto club. Most of its members hail from Russia, where cold-water swimming is a “very common way of life,” said Polowianiuk, a Belarusian from Poland.

Polowianiuk loathed the winter, but now he revels in its plummeting temperatures.

“I used to think ‘winter time is a drag. It’s too cold. I can’t take it,’” he recalled. “Now, I like it. I think, ‘Oh, this coming Sunday it’s going to be minus-whatever temperature. Perfect. Perfect.’

“Winter swimming totally changed my perspective. I love it. I think, ‘Why did I miss having this in my life for so long?’”