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December 06th, 2021
Healthy Lifestyles

polarplungeCome wintertime, polar plunges are sponsored by various organizations. Such events may serve as fundraisers for club operations or to help needy individuals, while others may simply be efforts to fend off cabin fever.

While no one can say for sure who originated the polar plunge, the first recorded Polar Bear Swim took place in Boston in 1904. In Canada and the Netherlands, it has become tradition to host plunges on New Year’s Day. Even people in the southern hemisphere participate, with plunges off the coast of New Zealand and Antarctica in June. In the United Kingdom, a “Loony Dook” takes place in Scotland, with several thousand people attending the event and taking the plunge after New Year’s Eve celebrations. The largest plunge in the United States is the Plungapalooza in Maryland, which includes 12,000 swimmers, all of whom are there to raise funds for the Special Olympics.

Polar bear swims are not for the feint of heart, and even the most stalwart (and cold-tolerant) plunger can employ a few strategies to make the swim a success.

  • • Prepare in advance. Build up your cold tolerance in the bathtub or shower. Cold water may cause some people to hyperventilate. Acclimating to the sensation can make it less shocking when it’s time to get in the water.
  • • Exercise caution if you have a heart condition. Experts in medicine at Mount Sinai Medical School say that, following cold shock, the body will do something called a diving reflex. This means constricting blood vessels to direct more blood flow to the heart and brain, which causes an increased cardiac workload. 
  • • Walk slowly into the water. Rather than running and diving in, slow enter the water to acclimate your body to the cold and mitigate some of the shock.
  • • Make it a brief stint. Only stay in the water for a few minutes. Doctors say that cold water incapacitation can begin within five minutes of entering the water. Hypothermia requires being immersed for 30 minutes or more to set in.
  • • Bring along warm clothes. You’ll need to warm up quickly after the plunge. A terry cloth bath robe, thick wool socks, heavy sweater, and a hat can help restore body heat.
  • • Avoid alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can give off a false feeling of warmth and heat in the body, advises Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani at Indiana’s Ball State University. Alcohol dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the limbs at the expense of the core. It also may interrupt the body’s natural shivering response. Warming up with some scotch is not adviseable before or after the plunge.

If health ailments do not preclude a person from plunging, it can be an exciting way to spend a few wet minutes.  

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bellyfatThe way to a person’s heart may be through his or her stomach in more ways than one. Doctors have tied heart health to the abdomen, and having extra pounds around one’s middle can be detrimental to cardiovascular well-being.

Excess visceral fat in the belly, something doctors refer to as “central adiposity,” may have potentially dangerous consequences. While the link between belly fat and heart health has long been associated with men, women may be even more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of belly fat. A study published in March 2018 in the Journal of the American Heart Association examined 500,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69. Participants had their body measurements taken, and then were kept track of for heart attack occurrence over the next seven years. During that period, the women who carried more weight around their middles (measured by waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio or waist-to-height ratio) had a 10 to 20 percent greater risk of heart attack than women who were just heavier over all.

Belly fat is particularly dangerous because it doesn’t just include the insulating, or subcutaneous, fat under the skin. It is largely visceral fat that also surrounds the organs in the abdomen. Harvard Medical School reports that visceral fat is metabolically active and has been strongly linked to a host of serious diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia. Visceral fat is like an endocrine organ that secretes hormones and a host of other chemicals linked to diseases that can affect adults. One substance is called retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4), which has been tied to an increased risk of coronary heart disease. In 2015, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that normal-weight people with excessive belly fat had a higher risk of dying of heart disease or any other cause compared with people without central obesity.

The online health and wellness resource Medical News Today says doctors determine belly fat to be a problem when a woman’s waist measures 35 inches or more and a man’s 40 inches or more. MRIs also can be used as a fat analyzer and will be judged on a scale of 1 to 59. A measurement of 13 and under is desireable. 

The Mayo Clinic advises that poor diet and fitness habits can contribute to belly fat. As people age, they may have to make more drastic changes to their diets and exercise regimens to counteract changes in their metabolisms. Eliminating sugary beverages, watching portion sizes, counting calories, doing moderate aerobic activity daily, and choosing healthier foods can help tame visceral fat. Also, doctors may recommend those who are stressed to try stress-busting techniques, as stress also may be tied to excessive belly fat.

Belly fat should not be overlooked, as its presence can greatly increase a person’s risk for various diseases. 

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stressStress is an issue that knows no geographical boundaries. The Regus Group reports that stress levels in the workplace are rising, with six in 10 workers in major global economies experiencing increased workplace stress. Workers forced to take on too much work or those tasked with performing jobs beyond their abilities might not be able to do much to quell those demands. However, they can employ various strategies to manage their stress.

  • • Embrace planning. A 2011 survey from psychologist Robert Epstein asked more than 3,000 participants in 30 countries which stress management technique was most effective at helping them overcome their stress. Epstein discovered that participants felt planning was the most effective way to manage their stress. Planning is essentially a proactive approach to managing stress and fighting it before it even starts. Smartphone apps make it easier than ever to schedule your time. Utilizing such apps or opting for the more traditional route by using a day planner can be a highly effective way to manage stress.
  • • Practice cognitive reframing. Cognitive reframing is another effective stress-management technique that involves changing the way you look at something so your experience of it changes. Psychologists note that cognitive reframing is effective because the body’s stress response is triggered by perceived stress and not actual events. So by reframing the way you perceive a potentially stressful event, you can change your body’s response to it. This technique is most effective when people are mindful of their thoughts, particularly those that might be negative or stress-inducing. 
  • • Take breaks. A heavy workload may compel people to sit down at their desk and keep working until quitting time. However, that approach takes both a physical and emotional toll. Sitting for long periods of time without getting up not only increases a person’s risk for various diseases, but it also can contribute to something known as decision fatigue. Decision fatigue occurs when someone must make frequent decisions throughout the day. Without a break, such persons’ abilities to reason becomes compromised, and they may end up making poor decisions or feeling less confident in their decisions, which may increase their stress levels. Frequent breaks, even if they’re just brief walks to get a glass of water, can help avoid both the physical and emotional effects of stress.

Stress affects people across the globe. Learning to manage it can make people happier in both their personal and professional lives. 

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