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Winter swimming attracts more devotees, younger crowd

Young fitness enthusiasts are joining the ranks of an estimated 150,000 active winter swimmers in Finland, saying it does wonders for sore muscles. 

Porukkaa nousemassa pois avannosta Hämeenlinnan Apparalla.
Combining an icy water plunge with a hot sauna is growing more popular. Image: Kati Turtola / Yle
Yle News

People of all ages have traditionally engaged in winter swimming – especially in Finland – but regulars have begun to notice a spike in the number of youngsters getting hooked on the pastime.

Jukka Vuorinen, president of the Finnish Outdoor Association Suomen Latu's winter swimming committee, says dipping in icy water is clearly becoming a trend among young adults, especially those active in sports and fitness.

Päivi Pälvimäki, a member of Suomen Latu's winter swimming committee and a winter swimming instructor, says she is thrilled that the younger generation is finding its way to the practice.

"It does have this cool 'extreme' element – challenging yourself to an extent. Young people find this important," she says.

Post-workout muscle relief

Anna Savolainen took her first dip in the icy sea three years ago in the southwestern city of Turku.

"Who in the heck would do that? It is a totally crazy thing to do. But then, when you realize how good it makes you feel, you understand," she says.

A fan of regular cross fit workouts, Savolainen says the main reason she started winter swimming is because it helps her muscles recover. She has also come to believe that the cold water relieves stress and improves her general wellbeing.

"After a session, I feel as if I have been reborn," she says.

Anna Savolainen nousee avannosta Hämeenlinnan Apparalla
Anna Savolainen started winter swimming three years ago. Image: Mika Halme / Yle

Pälvimäki says many regular winter swimmers report sleeping better, feeling less stressed and having a more upbeat outlook. Others say it improves blood circulation and muscle metabolism, while some say it helps them relieve pain.

"We know that it brings blood pressure down a bit for people who winter swim three or four times a week for several months," she says.

Annual competition coming up in March

Suomen Latu expects a record 2,000 participants to join in its 30th annual national winter swimming competition in Turku in March.

Pälvimäki reports that there are an estimated 150,000 regular winter swimmers in Finland, but that the number of people who occasionally take an icy dip far exceeds this.

She notes that 240 new locations have been added to an online list of winter swimming spots in recent years.

"There are many places where people have to wait in line because there's no room in the sauna or changing rooms. There is a clear desire for more winter swimming locations in Finland," Pälvimäki says.

Edit at 10:37 on 11 January: Jukka Vuorinen is president of Suomen Latu's winter swimming committee, not the entire organisation.

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