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27 Feb 2024
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Winter in Tahoe
The Cold Plunge

By Tim Hauserman
During breaks in storms for many years I’ve headed down to Lake Tahoe to enjoy that special
feeling of quiet that is Tahoe in the winter. While I’m usually wearing warm clothes, a hat and
gloves, this past winter I’ve been startled by all the people down at the beach taking off their
clothes and jumping into Lake Tahoe’s chilly waters. And by chilly I do mean chilly. It’s in the
40s. Brrr. Before this winter, I could count on less than one hand all the cold water swimmers
I’ve encountered. This winter, it was unusual to not see a few hearty souls heading in for a quick

Apparently the new popularity of cold water plunging is the result of Tik Tok videos (says the guy
who hardly knows what Tik Tok is) and the recommendation of some folks who claim cold
immersion can reduce muscle pain, promote relaxation, and is quite invigorating (I will agree
with that one). There are quite a few people that think it feels great and is good for them.
Before you doff your clothes, however, it’s good to do a bit of research. A number of hospitals
and the American Heart Association say that while the evidence of benefits is scant, the
potential pitfalls of cold shock are pretty extreme. According to
“‘Cold shock can be dangerous,’ said Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology at
Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. ‘Whether there are health benefits or not is not clear
and has not been established.

Plunging the body into cold water triggers a sudden, rapid increase in breathing, heart rate and
blood pressure known as the cold shock response. That can cause a person to drown within
seconds if they involuntarily gasp while their head is submerged. The shock also places stress
on the heart and makes it work harder. The rapid loss of heat also can lead to hypothermia,
making it harder to think clearly or move well. Being immersed in cold water triggers
hypothermia faster than just being out in the cold, because water takes heat away from the body
25 times faster than air.

If you still want to feel the benefits of that triple shot of buzz you get from taking a very cold
plunge, the heart experts have a few recommendations:
Think less plunging, and more slow dipping. Give yourself plenty of time to acclimate to the icy
cold temperatures.

Don’t stay fully immersed too long, and once out of the water quickly get out of those wet
clothes and into dry ones.

Be sure to not go alone, so perhaps someone can rescue you if you go into cold shock. But
make sure the other person likes you enough to plunge in themselves.