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Finland's winter swimmers chase endorphins

With winter swimming becoming mainstream in Finland, some devotees seek feelgood endorphins with a daily plunge in icy cold water.

Nainen ui avannossa napapiirillä.
Image: Kaisa Siren / AOP

Some winter swimmers in Finland say they crave cold water.

Kai Haapasalo, a public health centre physician, told Yle that he goes for an outdoor swim most days – sometimes even skipping the sauna.

”It gives me euphoria and the swimming has kept me healthy,” he explained of a hobby that can put enthusiasts in a near-hypothermic state.

Story continues after photo.

Kai Haapasalo, avantouinti
Kai Haapasalo, avid winter swimmer. Image: Markku Sandell / Yle

Various studies have praised the health-boosting qualities of winter swimming, from stress relief and memory improvement to pain relief for arthritis sufferers. Some research also suggests that regular winter swimming can boost the body’s brown fat levels, helping guard against obesity.

But for these benefits to kick in, enthusiasts need to do more than take a quick dip.

”The usual routine is dip, sauna and leave, but it’s actually better to finish with the swim, not sauna,” winter swimming fanatic Haapasalo explained.

Story continues after photo.

Mies menee Oulujokeen uimaan talvella
Image: Timo Nykyri / Yle

Not for everyone

Jumping into a hole cut into the frozen sea is, however, not something everyone should attempt, according to Haapasalo.

”People with heart conditions should exercise special caution as should anyone fighting an infection.”

Freezing cold water can trigger shock, and a sudden contraction of blood vessels can cause a stroke.

Turku will host Finland’s winter swimming championships in a few weeks. Around one thousand winter swimmers are expected to compete for the national title in the frigid waters of Aurajoki River.

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