How Cold Is Too Cold for a Polar Plunge?

Joey Randazzo

Published: Oct 14, 2023

Last Updated:

Polar plunges are becoming more and more common. It’s basically where a group of people, in the dead of winter, go jump into cold water.

Yes, people have died from polar plunges

You hate to see headlines like this, but it happens.

And it’ll continue to happen. Cold plunges can be dangerous, there’s no doubt about it.

Why do people die during polar plunges?

There are a few main reasons:

Cold Shock Response: It’s basically where people just freeze up. Their body, their breathing, their mobility.

Cardiac Arrest: Their heart just can’t take the sudden, drastic shift to cold water.

Alcohol / Drugs: Folks may be partying around New Year’s Eve and still choose to do a polar plunge

With deaths occurring, is it because polar plunges are too cold?

For these specific people, the polar plunges were too cold for their current states.

Whether they knew it or not, their body couldn’t handle the cold temperatures.

However, thousands of people, if not tens of thousands of people, do polar plunges in water and air temperatures that is likely much colder than the water that these folks died in.

So it’s not that ALL polar plunges are too cold. They’re not. It’s that certain people shouldn’t be plunging at all.

A non-exhaustive list of folks who should not do polar plunges

1. Cardiovascular conditions

People with heart conditions, such as a history of heart attacks, angina, arrhythmias, or congestive heart failure, should avoid polar plunges. Exposure to extremely cold water can cause a sudden increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which may be dangerous for those with underlying cardiovascular issues.

2. Respiratory conditions

Individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or bronchitis may experience breathing difficulties in extremely cold water. Cold air can cause bronchospasms and exacerbate respiratory symptoms, leading to potential complications during a polar plunge.

3. Hypertension

Individuals with uncontrolled high blood pressure may be at risk during a polar plunge. The sudden immersion in cold water can lead to a rapid increase in blood pressure, potentially causing strain on the cardiovascular system.

4. Raynaud's disease

People with Raynaud's disease have extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures, leading to vasoconstriction in their extremities. Immersing in icy water could trigger severe symptoms and reduce blood flow to the fingers and toes, increasing the risk of frostbite.

5. Diabetes

People with diabetes need to be cautious during a polar plunge as they may have impaired sensation in their extremities, making it difficult to detect cold-related injuries like frostbite. Moreover, diabetes can affect blood circulation, which may increase the risk of complications when exposed to extreme cold.

Before participating in any extreme cold-water activities like a polar plunge, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns. 

They can provide personalized advice based on your health status and help you make informed decisions regarding your participation.

How cold is too cold for a polar plunge?

The answer here is…

It depends on the person.

A group of 100 trained people can go out and do a polar plunge in the following conditions:

  • Water temp: 38F
  • Outside temp with wind chill: -10F

And every single one of them can come out totally fine if they do the following:

  • Have scoped the area to make sure there aren’t any in-water hazards (currents, slippery rocks, etc)
  • Have a warm-up plan (blankets, tea, clothing, heaters, etc)
  • Have trained medical professionals available

Here are some general guidelines to know if a cold plunge is too cold:

This is a general assumption that you’re spending less than 60 seconds in the water and you’re not swimming. Simply standing. Remember, do not plunge until you’ve talked to your medical professional and they’ve approved you.

For people who rarely/never do polar plunges:

  • Water temperature is below 45 degrees
  • Air temperature is below 20 degrees

For people who frequently do polar plunges:

  • Water temperature is below 35 degrees
  • Air temperature is in the negatives

If you’re considering doing a polar plunge, start training now

It’s not that hard to start training. We recommend training at least a few weeks before participating in a polar plunge.

Do cold showers for 30+ seconds per day

Turn that faucet to the coldest setting and breathe through it!

Consider doing an at-home ice bath

Go to the store, buy the appropriate amount of ice for an ice bath, and try to stay in for at least 60 seconds with regulated breathing

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