As cold winds roll in, freezing the lakes of Minnesota, a beloved tradition returns—the polar plunge (in various forms). And while some of us shiver at the notion, there are others in our community who embrace the cold, so much so that it’s become a lifestyle and a source of giving back.
Let’s start with the annual Polar Plunge in Maple Grove, which is now in its 16th year and has raised more than $2 million for Special Olympics Minnesota. This year’s event is set for February 4 at Fish Lake Regional Park. The event is the result of a partnership between the Maple Grove Police Department and several businesses, community stakeholders including The Lookout Bar and Grill, Maple Grove Ambassadors and the Maple Grove Public Works Department. (Details are available at plungemn.org.)
When it comes to jumping into colder water as a lifestyle and wellness choice, count area resident Brian Mahoney among those ranks. Since moving back to Minnesota from New York during COVID-19, Mahoney has taken to visiting ice baths
(and saunas) up to five or seven times a week. “I like the contrast of the hot and cold. You sort of go from one extreme to another, and for me, mentally, if you can conquer that … you feel like you can conquer anything,” he says.
Throughout the year, Mahoney is a member at Embrace North, a sauna and cold therapy company that is spreading this wellness notion across the Metro. Founded by Ironman triathlete and personal trainer Luis Leonardo, Embrace North has garnered nearly 500 members since its launch in Linden Hills in June 2021. Its mission to make people feel more alive has resonated with area residents looking to push the limits of their bodies and minds in a safe and friendly environment.
“There’s this mental resilience side, and then there’s the physical recovery side, and we’re pairing both of these two things together to make humans more optimal and recover faster, heal better and just live a better overall lifestyle,” says Harrison Klein, Embrace North’s co-partner and breathing specialist.
On a wellness level, the initial shock of entering the water is just the tip of the iceberg. Regular ice bathers report improved heart health and mental fitness alongside better overall happiness and energy. It’s about longevity and breathing, practice and ritual. Proponents of this modality stand by it wholeheartedly, and some skeptics will find themselves hooked after their first experience. “There’s not one person that doesn’t come back here,” Klein says about Embrace North. “The best part is everybody leaves here with a smile. I’ve never seen anybody leave here not happy.”
Cold therapy is a wellness trend that has garnered a large interest in the fields of research and media, and for good reason. When one dips into an ice bath, there is a plethora of systems effected, including the brain and sympathetic nervous system. As the fight-or-flight response is triggered by the cold water, so too is the brain’s alertness and ability to concentrate, Klein explains, especially as one engages in breathing protocols and works against instincts to slow the heart rate. “You’re trying to stay calm in that response with your breath and your mindset,” he says, adding that this controlled situation can eventually help to rewire how the brain handles stressful situations.
“A lot of us in society today are very stressed out, so we’re putting ourselves into these intentional controlled stressful situations to adapt to it and become more resilient,” Klein says. “… When stress hits us outside of this environment [the cold or the heat], we react to it differently and, you know, we respond to it with better decision making.”
To reap the most benefits from cold-water immersion, the goal is to be submerged for three to five minutes in 40-degree (or cooler) water. And while some extremists may stay in for 10 minutes or longer, it’s at the three-minute mark when Klein says one fully experiences the benefits of cold thermogenesis, a bodily response to cold exposure. Thermogenesis is the natural way our bodies regulate core temperature, but the process is amplified in cold temperatures and results in a rapid release of hormones, increased metabolism and cardiovascular circulation. “The beauty is that it takes about three minutes in the cold water, and that is going to be the hardest three minutes of your day,” Klein says.
Embrace North offers members access to saunas, ice baths, winter retreats and a gym with focused classes and trainers.
Across the Metro, individuals and businesses are welcoming the cold. Locally, consider Restore Hyper Wellness in the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes for its whole body cryotherapy (two to three minutes) to aid with sleep, signs of aging and energy levels, or its local
cryotherapy (10 minutes) for targetted pain and soreness, and to advance recovery.