How Your Body Reacts to Very Cold Water

Friday, 31 December 2010

Winter canoe paddle on Airthrey Loch on a cold winter morning - Cottrell Building in Background. Flickr photo credit: Astacus

If you are thinking of taking a New Years Day winter paddle but wondering don't know how your body reacts when it hits that ice cold water MSNBC has an interesting article on what happens to everything just below the surface of your skin.

According to the article:
“Your body responds to a cold plunge in three ways: First, the small blood vessels constrict on the surface of your body as a defense mechanism, so you don’t lose heat. That means that a whole lot more blood is being squeezed into the same amount of blood vessels, which “serves to increase the effect on blood pressure,” Dr. Alan Steinman says.

Next, blood rushes from extremities to the core, chilling the limbs and leading to weakness and impaired motor coordination. That's why people rescued from accidental plunges into icy water have trouble grabbing life rings or ropes from rescuers.

Finally, true hypothermia sets in, typically after more than 30 minutes of immersion. That's when core body temperature plunges below normal. If it falls far enough, heartbeat may be disrupted and breathing may fail, causing death.

Quick tip of the day: Make sure you are out of the water before true hypothermia sets in. You will thank me later.

Flickr photo credit: Astacus

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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