Why ice bathing is growing in popularity among young Norwegians

A recent survey found that one-fifth of young people in Norway are planning on taking the plunge into icy waters this winter, if they haven't already. Experts predict the pastime will only increase in popularity.

Pictured is a ladder leading to icy waters.
Around 20 percent of young people in Norway will take the plunge into icy waters (pictured below), the survey has found. Photo by Brian Kyed on Unsplash

A Nordic tradition, the ice bath has seen a resurgence of popularity in recent years, and a survey has found that swimming in icy waters is increasing in popularity among young people in Norway.

As many as one fifth of young people are planning on wading into ice-cold waters this winter, a survey from the Norwegian Association for Outdoor Organisations found.

“My impression is that ice swimming has become more popular in the last year, and I predict that this is a trend we will see more of in the future,” general secretary of the association, Bente Lier, said of the survey’s findings on the organisation’s website.

Overall, around 13 percent of people said they intend on submerging themselves into teeth-chattering waters, seven percent fewer than those in younger age groups.

One of those who has made good on those plans in recent weeks is prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who made headlines with his annual New Year’s tradition of taking an ice bath.

The pastime of swimming in icy waters saw its popularity peak prior to World War Two before seeing a significant drop-off in popularity in the 60’s and 70’s and then a resurgence in interest in recent years.

READ MORE: Why the shocking cold of winter bathing is a Nordic favourite

Lier said that the increase in ice swimming’s popularity among those aged between 15-24 reflected the times we find ourselves in.

“The fact that this (ice swimming) has become popular can probably be linked to the time we are in, which means that you may need to try new activities and challenge yourself in new ways. Many people state that ice bathing gives an almost therapeutic effect and an enormous feeling of accomplishment,” Lier explained.

Another potential reason for the growing popularity of ice bathing could be its reported health benefits.

Research indicates that benefits of winter bathing include lower risk of infections, reduced inflammation, better stress control, and can help with dementia and depression.

When the body cools quickly, blood vessels contract, causing a rise in blood pressure in the central parts of the body and more circulation in the trunk than in the limbs.

At the same time, stress hormones adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol are released to raise blood sugar. This can leave swimmers feeling elation or less stressed afterwards.

Those with heart conditions or high blood pressure should consult a doctor before giving ice swimming a go, and all bathers are urged not to stay exposed to the cold for too long due to the risk of hypothermia. Winter bathing should not be done alone.

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