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Published on December 29, 2020

Prioritize safety if taking the plunge on New Year’s Day

Polar Plunge

Happy new year! Want to go for a swim?

Every year, there are people who greet January’s arrival by doing a polar plunge in the Cape’s chilly ocean waters. This New Year’s Day at least one local organization will continue that tradition.

It’s kind of a crazy ritual, but it’s perfectly safe – for most people under the right conditions, said emergency medicine physician Kristen Liska, MD, who treats patients at Cape Cod Hospital’s Emergency Center and the Cape Cod Healthcare Urgent Care in Hyannis.

“People should think about their own health and their risks before deciding to do it,” she said. “The biggest point is to think about your co-morbidities, if any. If you have chronic breathing issues like COPD or bad asthma, if you're already feeling unwell, or if you have heart conditions, like a history of arrhythmias, which could be triggered by suddenly jumping into freezing cold water and having an adrenaline surge, then it's probably not a good idea for you to do a polar plunge.

“For anyone else, it should be fine, but don't spend a long time in the water.”

Have several towels ready so you can dry yourself as much as possible. As soon as you can, change into several layers of dry clothes and head for a warm space.

Quick dips are shocking but oddly satisfying and energizing, at least until the adrenaline wears off. Your heart rate will increase, your blood pressure will rise, and your breathing will speed up – all perfectly fine if you’re in good health.

Staying in too long can be dangerous, so just jump in and dash out, said Liska.

“Frostbite can happen from being in the water for long periods of time,” she said. “The signs take time to develop. As blood flow goes back to your extremities it hurts and burns, and they turn red. But if over time you start noticing blisters or any dark, black darkening areas of the skin, then they definitely need to be checked out because that could be signs of more severe frostbite that would need attention.”

Several local polar plunges have been cancelled, but the Monument Beach Polar Club will do a socially-distanced version as a fundraiser for the Bourne Food Pantry.

“We couldn’t let a year go by… not even this year,” the group says on its Facebook page. “Jumping into a freezing body of water in the middle of winter may seem like a CRAZY idea, but Monument Beach Polar Club supporters have ALWAYS risen to the challenge, braved the elements and made our annual New Year’s Day Polar Plunge a huge success year after year.”

The group is encouraging people to participate virtually (by taking a cold bath or getting doused with a bucket of ice water, for example) between now and Jan. 2, but they also are inviting people to pre-register for spaced-out plunges at Patuisset Beach in Pocasset, with times assigned between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to avoid crowding.

More info is available on the group’s Facebook page.

Thinking of doing a solo plunge? “Not a good idea,” said Dr. Liska.

“You should never swim by yourself, even in the summer, but especially not when you’re jumping into freezing cold water, just in case something goes wrong. If you want to do a private polar plunge, do it with a friend who’s in your bubble and be sure to have a cell phone handy in case someone needs help.”