Popular ‘polar plunge’ isn’t safe for everyone
It’s on! Late night television host Jimmy Fallon has accepted Rahm Emanuel’s dare and will be joining the Chicago mayor for the Polar Plunge this Sunday at North Avenue Beach.
And with the predicted high being a measly 20 degrees, the new host of “The Tonight Show” and the 2,500 Chicagoans expected to attend are in for a frigid swim.
While for a great cause (Polar Plunge proceeds benefit the Chicago Special Olympics), the annual event also has some real risks. Especially when it comes to your heart, says Dr. Mehran Jabbarzadeh, cardiac electrophysiology specialist at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.
“When you jump into the cold water, your external blood vessels will constrict,” Dr. Jabbarzadeh says. “Blood pressure, heart rate — they all go up. Your heart ends up having to work harder than it normally would to pump blood through the body.”
For healthy people this may mean temporary irregular heart rhythms, Dr. Jabbarzadeh says, but for those with underlying heart conditions, the additional workload could trigger a heart attack.
“Anyone with major medical problems, as well as children and the elderly, should talk with a doctor before participating,” says Dr. Cameron Colvig, an emergency room physician at Advocate Condell Hospital.
“But if you’re committed to plunging, the popular event luckily seems to be harmless for most people. Especially if you use common sense and prepare,” Dr. Colvig adds. “You definitely want to place a limit on your exposure time. And if something doesn’t feel right, get out of the water immediately.”
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following tips for cold water immersion:
- Wear proper clothing – wool and synthetics are best (not cotton)
- Use a personal flotation device, such as a life vest or dry suit
- Bring a buddy or have a means of being retrieved from the water
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