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Out of the Cold

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My Norwegian friend Ingre swears by the health benefits of her daily swim in the cold waters of the Atlantic. Every morning, she's down at the beach off beautiful Sogne Fjord'even in the sub-zero temperatures of December'to "take the waters" and experience the blood rush that results.

My Norwegian friend Ingre swears by the health benefits of her daily swim in the cold waters of the Atlantic. Every morning, she's down at the beach off beautiful Sogne Fjordeven in the sub-zero temperatures of Decemberto "take the waters" and experience the blood rush that results.

Every day, Norwegians young and old take what amounts to a daily polar bear plunge to appreciate the therapeutic benefits of seawater. Many claim that it is the coldness of the water that braces the body in a rejuvenating health effect. Apparently cold water stimulates blood flow to the surface of the skin from deep in the body and may have an adaptive effect leading to increased dilation of the blood vessels and better circulation with frequent cold water immersions.

The Ultimate Wake-Up Call

Cold water has also been shown to stimulate brain activity in the elderly. Researchers at the University of Hanover, in 2001, reported increased alertness and brain activity among 24 volunteers aged 65 to 80 following daily cold water therapy.

Like Ingre during her cold water swims, study participants splashed their faces with 10°C (50°F) water for 10 seconds and then draped cold, wet towels around their necks for one minute. All participants reported feeling more alert and invigorated for up to 60 minutes following this bracing interaction with cold water.

Heating It Up

Warm seawater has health benefits as well. In Norway, spas dot the sparkling fjords, offering visitors health treatments such as cold water baths, seaweed scrubs, hydromassage, and thalassotherapy. The most unusual of these, thalassotherapy heats up the water to offer quite the opposite of cold water immersion.

Taking its name directly from "the sea"thalasso, in Greek (pronounced thah-lah-sso)thalassotherapy, or seawater therapy, increases circulation, enhances the appearance of skin, and relaxes the body through immersion in warm seawater. More typically experienced in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, thalassotherapy at spas in Norway uses water piped from the glacier-fed sea and heated to 40°C (104°F). Heating concentrates the more than 60 minerals and trace elements that occur naturally in seawater. Concentrated seawater has been found to be the mildest water to the human body and higher concentrations of sodium, nitrate-nitrogen, phosphate-phosphorus, and silicate-silicon may have a good influence on human health. Positive effects have been shown in cases of psoriasis and dermatitis.

Over the Christmas holidays Ingre is visiting her grandchildren here in Canada and I've invited her to join me at our local polar bear swim on New Year's Day. Maybe in return she'll book me into a Norwegian spa.

Canadian Seawater Therapy

Last year hundreds of thousands of brave Canadians took the polar bear plunge on New Year's Day, insisting that this annual custom staves off the negative effects of too much champagne and not enough sleep the night before. Polar bear swims happen across Canada from coast to coast to coast. You'll even find people doing the traditional Arctic Ocean toe dip in frozen Inuvik. Watch your local paper for information about the timing of this charity event in your area. Your body will love itonce you get out.

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