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Calgarians plunge in icy Bow River for better health benefits

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  • February 12, 2024


Groups of people headed to Bowness Park on Sunday to dip their bodies in ice-cold water for better health.
“My body starts to crave the cold because I know about the benefits and how much better I’m going to feel the next day,” said polar plunger Roni-lil Shapka.She’s recently started joining the group that gathers weekly in Bowness Park to plunge into the icy waters. It’s a shock to the body but that’s the point.“It’s really fun. I feel like I’m alive again — just the vibrancy.  I find that my mind is better focused. Mental clarity and more stamina,” Shapka said joyfully after emerging from the river.The group says cold plunges are a form of cold-water therapy. Ice baths are typically used by athletes after workouts to improve recovery. Story continues below advertisement

Bow River Polar plungers say it’s a mental and physical challenge to get in and stay in for several minutes.“Sometimes when I feel like I want to go out, I say, ‘Let’s do five breaths. Let’s push it just a little bit more,’ and when I get out, I feel phenomenal,” said Junior Chica.He said the secret to going in is not thinking about it.“Because if you think about it, that’s what makes it difficult,” Chica laughed.

To help prepare mentally, there’s an instructor at the park teaching breathing exercises. The method involves breathing exercises and cold exposure in the form of ice baths or very cold showers.

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Stuart Widmer says the short-term stress his body goes through helps him deal with stress outside the water.“If you can get in ice water, you can do a lot of things,” Widmer said.There’s a painful half-minute to endure first when people take the plunge.“It’s usually only 30 or 45 seconds is difficult and after that your body adjusts,” Widmer said.He said there is a risk of hypothermia and that’s why they only dip for a few minutes and there’s safety in growing numbers. Story continues below advertisement

“We start with a maximum of two minutes.  People take care of each other.  You’re growing a community.  Everybody’s like-minded trying to do something good for themselves,” Widmer said.But they are not just doing it for themselves.  These cold-water connoisseurs have warm hearts.A group that dips in the Sheep River in Okotoks has a fundraiser called dips4dinner donating to families in need.On March 3, the polar plungers will be back at Bowness Park raising funds for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.Chica said it’s possible to do the cold bath at home, but the outdoor experience is more scenic and more social.“Almost every week there’s somebody new and everybody comes together and welcomes people and tells them what you should expect, and this is how you’re going to feel.  It’s really cool to see everyone come together people that are 17 and people are in their 60’s,” Chica said. Story continues below advertisement

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