One is tempted to point to the creatures that in ancient times rose from the sea and created life on Earth. The name, place and time of that person have probably been lost in the back wheels of history, but until the fire was found, you must have bathed in nature's cold water, unless you have lived near hot springs, which are found in e.g. Japan, Turkey and Iceland.
In the Middle Ages, there were saunas in many places in the Nordics and Europe, and in Eastern Europe smoke saunas were used, which the Vikings took home to, among other things, Sweden and Finland. In the 15th century, Christian morality forbade many of these saunas, partly because they found it immoral that men and women bathed naked together, partly because a real brothel business arose, which led to syphilis epidemics.
From the time of ancient medicine, body and nature were a key concept. Nature was the very basis for the art of medicine, and up through the 16th-17th centuries there was a focus on how to treat diseases. It was only in the 1700s and 1900s that health as prevention slowly crept into the medical science of the time. Hygiene appeared in parallel with health education at the end of the 18th century and with it also the moral perception of how to live, because health was closely connected with themes such as the body and especially the soul. Some found their ideal of health in ancient Greece, others among the 'wild' natural people such as Native Americans, Indians and Inuit. In the late 19th century, it was more realistic facts that characterized the health debate; the growth of the big cities, the densely populated housing and the fear of epidemics.
When, in the early 18th century, cold baths were used as a medical treatment for both mental illnesses and deafness in e.g. England, they pulled wagons down to the spas by the sea. In Sweden, people were more educated and pumped up salt water for use in hot baths. Later, special pools were built. Later again, horse-drawn bathhouses on wheels were used, which were pulled all the way down to the water's edge, so that you could go directly into the waves. There was a fear of the sea, and although many health resorts were located with access to the fresh lake water, it was often the combination of the cold sea bath and warm indoor bath that was the norm.
Spas arose in several places in Europe, and in England King George IV built a lake bath for himself in Brighton. In Germany, the spa system was put into operation, and gradually the trend spread to the Nordic countries. In Sweden, Rosenbad was built as early as 1681 – today it is the seat of the Swedish government.
The many spas made their way to victory throughout the Nordic region. In Norway, a spa was founded in Moss in 1835 and in Sandefjord in 1837. In Sweden it was even earlier in e.g. Ramlösa. These were often places where you already had so-called healing springs.
In Denmark, Silkeborg was one of the leading places that shaped the development in Northern Europe. Justice Adolf Ludvig Drewsen visited his nephew Michael Drewsen in Silkeborg in 1850 to undergo a well cure with water brought from Rosenborg Brondanstalt. After a long series of harassments with the public authorities regarding the transfer of state forest for private purposes, in July 1883 it was possible to make an area at the Arnakkekilderne available free of charge to build a water cure facility on the area, and Silkeborg Vandkuranstalt was able to receive the first guests. One of the attractive offers was a large indoor cold water pool.
The famous radical thinker Georg Brandes also became acquainted with the treatment with the cold baths. During a long trip to Europe in 1871, he ended up in a hospital in Rome in February and wrote home to his mother:
"Today we started with the cold soaks, that should help a lot. It is a pure vaudeville situation: the German doctor recommends warm baths, the Italian cold baths; the wisest thing would undeniably be to let the two whales swallow each other, so that only the tails remain, to keep these as a reminder of this good advice, which, as the proverb aptly says, is expensive (10 francs) and no worldly thing to do. But no matter what, now I'm trying the cold'.
Copenhagen was previously involved in the health revival of the time. From the beginning of the 19th century, Rysensten Badeanstalt was known for its health well and the manufacture of drinking water for use in bitter beer against cholera and health beer against gout. Rysensten was a popular bathing spot, which, among other things, appears from the author Meïr Aron Goldschmidt's 'Fortellinger' (1846), where in 'For otte Skilling Hvedebrød' he lets three young people meet one morning at the Rysensten Badeanstalt.
When gymnastics, together with swimming, became a compulsory school subject in 1830, the harbor area at Langebro was the place where the Copenhagen swimming lessons took place. Outside Rysensten, the children were given a rope around their waists and had to jump into the water, while the teachers were, in the most literal sense, rope holders and could save the poor swimmers from drowning.
In the middle of the 19th century, there were a number of bathing establishments in Copenhagen, which had to remedy the terrible hygienic conditions that led to epidemics and deaths. In 1884, a Swedish captain, JGA Nielsson, came from Stockholm to Copenhagen to give swimming lessons. That was the start of Denmark's renowned winter bathing establishment Heligoland. As mentioned, the Swedish capital had, since the end of the 17th century, had the Rosenbad bathhouse and from 1885 also the Sturebadet, which included the actress diva Greta Garbo among its later guests. Captain Nielsson thought that the swimming conditions in Copenhagen were so primitive that he bought a plot of land to build a bathing establishment. At the same time as the establishment of Sture in the Swedish capital, the Danish royal city got the bathing establishment Heligoland, which was a kind of spiritual mirage of the former Danish island in the North Sea. Strandvejen 20 in the old lime distillery harbor in Svanemølle Bay opened on 16 June 1885 as the winter bathing establishment Helgoland. Both Sturebadet and Heligoland were architectural gems reminiscent of Renaissance castles, which is a style of construction for sea bathing establishments that can be found in many places throughout Europe to this day.
Is it healthy to bathe in winter?
The ancient Greeks were sure of their cause. Nature freaks from the 18th-19th centuries practiced it. Doctors throughout the 20th century have endorsed it. Scientists in the new millennium have proven it. Winter bathing is healthy. Mind you; all other things being equal, because it is advised from several sides that patients with heart and kidney disorders, arthritis sufferers, diabetics, pregnant women and people with abdominal inflammation as well as minor children should stay on land. But the rest of us can easily take the daily cold shock. Make blood pressure rise and heart rate fall. Allow the body to secrete the stress hormones and make room for the body's own morphine substance, which gives the kick and the euphoric feeling of being 'high'. When the temperature drops, the mood barometer rises, because winter bathing also has a positive mental hygiene effect.
Today there are over 40 winter swimming clubs in Denmark with more than 11,000 organized Vikings. In addition, all those who bathe here and there without a Viking baptism and membership card. And every day there are more. Many of the Danish winter swimming clubs have long waiting lists. That winter baths have become part of the wellness wave all over the world.
"... I walk back towards the house with body and mind boiling. The salty sea water turns into small glassy, icy drops in my hair. The seaweed is stuck to my legs, back and cheeks like tattoos in wild Viking patterns. The red sunrise hangs on my shoulders like a cape. Today it's not snow that crunches, but the feet. But soon the warmth returns to the toes too, and I'm once again reborn as the first life that rose from the sea. It's cool to be winter baths."
"High" from winter bathing
If you ask the winter bathers themselves, they have many good reasons to expose themselves to the regular cold shocks throughout the winter.
Most people believe that you get directly "high" from the violent temperature change. The blood flows faster, and you feel fresh and in a good mood after the dip.
The moment you come under, of course, it's freezing cold. But shortly after, you can actually feel how the heat flows through you, and your blood circulation gets going. At the same time, you know that there are many snorers at home, while you are almost alone with the cold, the ice and the icy shock. It gives some satisfaction.
Winter bathers stay in the water for 10-20 seconds at a time. Some go for a short swim, while others just dip.
Some winter bathers like the even greater temperature ups and downs. They combine the cold bath with a visit to the sauna.
First you go into the water, then into the sauna and then into the water again. Some even take the trip several times in a row.
The blood pressure increases and the heart rate decreases
All winter bathers agree that it is healthy to expose the body to a daily cold shock. And medical science tends to prove them right.
The Finnish doctor Kyllikki Kauppinen has investigated what exactly happens in the body when you take the direct trip from the hot sauna to the freezing temperatures of the lake.
The subjects were fitted with thermometers in various places on the skin, and a special thermometer was lowered into the esophagus. The latter measured the body's core temperature, which is very important for human survival in extreme cold. In addition, the subjects had their blood pressure and pulse measured and blood samples taken to determine hormonal changes during the temperature fluctuations.
During the sauna visit, both skin and body temperature rose slowly. The blood vessels in the body dilated, and thus the blood pressure fell.
At the same time, the heart beat faster because the body was trying to cool the blood. At the sudden temperature change to minus degrees, the reverse reaction occurred.
The skin's temperature dropped, and to retain heat, the blood vessels constricted, leading to increased blood pressure. The heart rate also dropped. Despite the very cold temperatures, there were no fluctuations on the thermometer that showed the body's core temperature.
The narrowing of the blood vessels and the increased blood pressure explain the feeling of "the rushing of the blood" that most winter bathers report. On the other hand, you have to look in the blood tests to get the explanation as to why winter bathing can have a pain-relieving effect.
The body secretes stress hormones
It turned out that the body's hormones also reacted to the severe cold shock. The body secreted large amounts of stress hormones, and in particular there was an increase in the blood's content of norepinephrine and cortisol. The increase is a sign that the person's so-called "sympathetic nervous system" is activated, and this may very well have a pain-relieving effect.
Moreover, several doctors point out that the general health of winter bathers differs from that of "ordinary people". First, they produce more fat than other people. This may be why they are better able to keep warm in the cold water. There is also the difference that winter bathers generally have a lower heart rate - below 60 beats per minute - which must be said to be excellent. A low heart rate is a sign of good fitness. Assuming the person is in reasonably good shape.
A cold dip starts the day
However, the doctors are not exclusively positive about the bliss of winter bathing. The violent temperature fluctuations - from 100 degrees heat to freezing point - are a very big strain on the heart and the entire circulatory system. So people with a tendency to heart problems should probably consider finding another winter sport.
But none of the early morning winter bathers at the small lake have heart problems either. On the contrary, they all claim to be in far better health than the people who are just now drinking their morning coffee.
A cold dip is exactly what is needed to give the body the boost that starts the day.