If you’re prepared to brave freezing air and chilling waters, chances are you’ll have fun kicking off 2018 by participating in a New Year’s Day polar plunge.
Although many South Jersey polar plunges have been canceled or rescheduled due to predicted record-low temperatures Monday, people are gearing up to run into the Atlantic Ocean in Atlantic City to continue a winter tradition.
Medical and health experts say healthy adults can expect to have a good, safe time running into 40-something-degree waters and coming out to temperatures in the teens, but people who have from cardiovascular, lung or vascular diseases should rethink that dive.
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“To be safe, people with heart, respiratory or other potentially life-threatening conditions should always consult with a physician before undertaking such an event,” said John Wolfram, general manager of Exceptional Medical Transportation. “My understanding is that conditions like asthma, angina and others can be triggered or aggravated by sudden immersion in cold water.”
Wolfram and his team of emergency responders and medical technicians will be at the Atlantic City Polar Bear Plunge in front of Resorts’ Landshark Bar and Grill on Monday afternoon to help anyone in need of medical attention during the event.
Responders who have covered the events for several years have found them to be relatively safe, Wolfram said. The typical cases they encounter include people who have a respiratory issue or who become mildly hypothermic and require drying or passive warming.
Dr. Thomas Brabson, chairman of emergency services at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, said the body experiences several things when suddenly immersed in freezing water.
Margate is the fourth South Jersey town to reschedule or cancel its New Year's Day polar plunge due to weather concerns.
That first point of contact with the cold water is a shock to the body, which causes an increased heart rate. Blood vessels shunt warm blood to the core of the body at the expense of the hands, feet, arms and legs.
The hands and feet are often the first to turn white and bluish, and sometimes get numb, Brabson said.
“Because of this sudden jolt that causes these symptoms, it puts a major stress on the body,” he said. “Your body’s reaction is to try and generate heat with muscle contractions and shivering. That’s why people with heart and lung conditions should avoid doing it.”
For the average healthy person, though, polar plunges can be fun and incident-free, as long as you follow some good tips and advice. Participants should stay as warm as possible before entering the water and get dried off quickly when they come out.
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The time polar plungers spend in the water — a couple seconds to a couple minutes — isn’t usually enough to cause them medical complications, but they can develop hypothermia if they spend too long standing in freezing temperatures on the beach in wet clothes, Brabson said.
And while everyone loves a good celebration after such a feat, Brabson said, it’s best to leave the drinking for the after-party.
Alcohol, in addition to causing cognitive and motor impairment, also dilates blood vessels, which causes the body to lose heat more quickly. That’s the last thing you want when it’s below freezing outside.
Follow these precautions and tips, experts say, and you’ll have a good time at polar plunges in the New Year. If you can’t participate due to medical conditions, you can always donate to whatever causes the plunges benefit and cheer on family and friends.