1/2011

Diving into icy water

Winter swimming

Alessandro Foi blends into his chilly, beautiful surroundings
while "warming up" for the World Winter Swimming
Championships in Slovenia. Photo: Taina Rajanti.

Senior Researcher Alessandro Foi finds swimming in the warm summer waters boring. The best season for swimming starts after water temperatures drop down below ten degrees.

Alessandro Foi was already a keen swimmer back in his native Italy but hates indoor swimming pools and chlorinated water. Swimming in lakes, with the forest around you and sky above you, is something quite different.

Foi came to Tampere University of Technology on researcher exchange for the first time in 2002 and permanently in 2003. When he tried winter swimming for the first time, Lake Näsijärvi in Tampere was frozen over and the temperature had fallen to minus 15 degrees. Despite the harsh conditions, he took an immediate fancy to the sport but does not recommend others to start the same way.

"It's best to keep swimming after summer and get used to the gradually cooling water. The health benefits associated with winter swimming are induced by regular exercise, so you should take a dip at least twice a week".

Alessandro Foi

Foi received this swimming
cap in 2009 when he got
the honour of throwing
the mythical "cold stone"
in the water on 25 July.
According to Finnish
folklore, lakes and seas
start to cool down after this.

Chilling out in icy water

A quick dip in a hole in the ice is not the way Foi does it. He likes to stay in the water for 10-15 minutes and swims even 500 metres at a time.

"Long-distance swimming in winter is an extreme sport, but any healthy person can do it - it only takes determination and training," assures Foi.

A year ago Foi took part in the 2010 World Winter Swimming Championships in Slovenia, although he says that competitions and awards are not what winter swimming is all about.

"The real battle is fought inside. Besides, my main motive for winter swimming is the feeling of well-being that it brings."

Foi points out that there are scientifically proven physical and psychological health benefits to winter swimming. It stimulates blood circulation and metabolism and lowers blood pressure. It also improves the body's resistance, relieves stress and releases natural feel-good hormones. Foi suffered his last flu 14 years ago and enjoys other positive effects after each swim.

"Icy water gives me an incredible rush of energy but it's also relaxing. Afterwards I can easily concentrate on the current research project without feeling the pressure of an approaching deadline. Swimming feels especially good if I'm under a lot of stress."

WHO: Alessandro Foi, 34 years

  • Senior researcher, Department of Signal Processing
  • PhD in 2005, DTech in 2007
  • Born in São Paulo, has lived most of his life in Milan.
  • Research topics: Mathematical and statistical signal processing methods, especially image processing.
  • Other hobbies: Cycling, skiing, mushroom picking, cooking.

Regularity is key

"When experienced winter swimmers slide into the water, the rapid change of temperature does not trigger an immediate stress reaction. They just experience a feeling of relaxation and pleasure."

Part of the charm of winter swimming lies in learning to know and listen to your own body. For example, Foi knows how long it takes before his peripheral blood circulation returns back to normal and the cold sensation wears off. The hardest part is getting out of the water.

Even though Foi often swims by himself, nothing dangerous has ever happened.

"Winter swimmers rarely end up in the emergency room. Winter swimming is not for the foolhardy. Testing your limits is alright but you shouldn't push them to the extreme."

 

Text and photo: Kati Vastamäki

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