New York polar plunge group dives into ‘life-changing’ cold water therapy: ‘Never felt better’ Sunday Swim
Long Island group commits to cold plunge every Sunday: It ‘can change your life’
Most people might say that jumping into the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean in the middle of January is beyond the pale.
But a new movement called Sunday Swim is encouraging Long Islanders — and anyone else across the country who might be interested — to take a cold water dip every single Sunday.
The Long Island, New York-based group takes a polar plunge at Robert Moses State Park each weekend to promote mental and physical health, camaraderie, well-being and general happiness.
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During the group’s fourth meeting of the year at Field 5 of Robert Moses beach, Fox News Digital spoke with Sunday Swim founder Brendan Cooke about the project’s beginnings.
Cooke, 23, explained that in 2021, his life “spiraled out of control” as he struggled with his mental health.
“I had no passion for life and could not see a future for myself,” he wrote in a separate statement to Fox News Digital.
“When you do hard things as a group, it becomes a whole lot easier.”
“You can walk around with a smile on your face and people will think you are happy, [but] they do not see the constant battle between the ears — the voices telling you that you are not good enough, that you are a failure, that you have no purpose,” he also said.
After coming across Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, whose fitness model is rooted in cold exposure, Cooke decided to take his first polar plunge in October 2021.
“This method changed my life,” he wrote. “I fell in love with living once again.”
He continued, “I was excited to wake up in the morning. Fear became my friend, my guide. I gained confidence and control. I found my purpose.”
‘Cold water can change your life’
Cooke decided to spread the word about the transformative aspects of “getting acquainted” with the cold — and encouraged his friends to tag along.
In January of this year, Sunday Swim became an LLC.
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Current co-owners Nick Pfeiffer and Brett Scher completed 20 weeks of polar plunges with Cooke and a few others in 2022, and became committed.
“Rain, sleet, snow or hail … Every single time we were here, whether it was three people, two people or 20,” he said.
“It didn’t matter because we know if we can show the world that the cold water does help lives, then this is a success.”
Members hold each other accountable while facing the uncomfortable — regardless of the weather.
Sunday Swim has hundreds of people showing up each weekend to reap the benefits of cold water therapy together as a team.
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“The energy levels are contagious, as are the smiles on faces,” Cooke wrote in his statement. “All it takes is a leap of faith.”
The mission is to plunge every Sunday for the next 20 weeks. Members hold each other accountable while facing the uncomfortable — regardless of the weather.
“We’re a group of individuals looking to get better every single day,” Cooke said.
“We’ve all lost, we’ve all had moments of weakness — but that does not define us.”
Cooke did not deny that diving into the frigid water is “frightening and hard,” but he emphasized that cold water can “change your life.”
“It’s a beast,” he said. “But when you do hard things as a group, it becomes a whole lot easier.”
Wim Hof Method and cold exposure therapy
Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, also known as “The Iceman,” has broken several records on cold exposure, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts and running a half-marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, according to wimhofmethod.com.
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Aimed at teaching others how to become “happier, healthier and stronger,” the Wim Hof Method is based on three pillars: commitment, breathing and cold therapy.
“Proper exposure to the cold starts a cascade of health benefits, including the buildup of brown adipose tissue and resultant fat loss, reduced inflammation that facilitates a fortified immune system, balanced hormone levels, improved sleep quality and the production of endorphins,” the website notes.
Fox News Digital reached out to Wim Hof for additional comments on his health model.
Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute sports medicine doctor Tracy Zaslow confirmed in an interview with Fox News Digital that cold water therapy has been proven to have multiple health benefits.
Cold water “drastically” increases energy levels and gives a 250% dopamine boost, which can last for several hours after a swim.
This includes decreased depression, anxiety and stress levels — plus decreased inflammation and joint pain.
Cold water “drastically” increases energy levels and gives a 250% dopamine boost, which can last for several hours after a swim, Cooke said.
It also increases blood flow, mental clarity and immunity, he said.
California-based Zaslow referred to a study from Germany in which researchers studied cold water’s impact on the immune system.
Researchers followed 85 Germans who participated in cold water swims regularly and found that they contracted 40% fewer upper respiratory infections than did the control group.
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The blood samples of some swimmers also showed boosted antioxidant protection, Zaslow said.
There is not enough research to explain why these effects happen to the human body, she added, but researchers are looking into it.
Commitment to the method
Pfeiffer, an ex-athlete at SUNY Cortland, said cold water helps with recovery.
“Once you get out of the water, you feel like a whole new human being,” he said. “It gives you a different outlook on life.”
The group has invested in 100-gallon cold plunge tubs so that they can practice throughout the week.
Scher said getting in an ice bath first thing in the morning — after taking a sledgehammer to the water that froze overnight — has become his “new coffee.”
“That’s how I really found how tough I actually am,” he said.
“When you are submerged in the cold water, nothing else exists,” Cooke noted. “The cold water acts as a mirror [of] your deepest emotions.”
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He continued, “Pay attention to where your mind goes when you are in a state of stress. How will you respond? You can either bail or battle. I choose to battle every single time.”
‘It’s OK not to be OK’
Sunday Swim has incorporated other aspects of wellness into the weekly plunges, most recently inviting health coach Brendan Morgan to teach a lesson on proper breathing before their plunge on Jan. 22.
“It’s only been through my pain and my suffering that I’ve really embraced life.”
“The breath is such a powerful tool,” Morgan told Fox News Digital.
“The Wim Hof breathing technique elicits controlled stress in the body … that will help tone the nervous system.”
“If you can set your stress baseline super high, then the stress on a daily basis … isn’t going to bother you as much.”
With a goal of improving the health and well-being of others, Cooke reminded those who struggle with mental health that “it’s OK not to be OK.”
He said, “It’s only been through my pain and my suffering that I’ve really embraced life.”
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Sunday Swimmer Matt Pecoraro shared with Fox News Digital that he struggled with drug abuse.
“When is the last time you tried something new?”
But after getting involved with the Sunday Swim community, his life took a “positive” turn, he said.
“I was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” he said, but “they welcomed me in with open arms. They’ve completely flipped my life around.”
Pecoraro said taking the plunge is more than just jumping into cold water.
“It is jumping into something that’s going to make me feel uncomfortable,” he said. “I’m cold right now but … I’ve never felt better.”
Cooke added, “Sometimes you lose, but that’s when you learn — and that’s what I believe we’re doing here.”
“I’m cold right now but … I’ve never felt better.”
“If one person’s life is better because of this project, we’ve already won,” he also said.
Giving to the community
While Sunday Swim was formed as a project to spread awareness about the benefits of cold water therapy, Pfeiffer said they’re now molding the brand into a business that serves the community.
This includes donating a portion of proceeds from merchandise sales to mental health organizations and volunteering in the community on Saturdays.
“Since people give to our community, we want to give back,” Pfeiffer said.
Sunday Swim also hopes to partner with gyms to build facilities where cold-water tubs will be available.
The group recently teamed up with New York-based Hartford Funding’s Team Franzese to help fund ongoing efforts.
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Mortgage loan originator Brandon Kenney explained that the bank initiated contact with Sunday Swim after recognizing the “energy” and important message behind the project.
“It’s just a great cause,” Kenney said. “They’re great people doing great things for the community.”
Ready to take the plunge?
Although taking this leap of faith may seem unthinkable to many, Scher encouraged people to ask themselves, “When is the last time you tried something new?”
“Going into the water for the first time — we weren’t ready to do it, we weren’t excited about it,” he said. “But after you’re done, you tap into what your mind can really do.”
“You always want to start with very short intervals in the cold water.”
“A lot of people think we’ve lost our minds … but I really think we’ve found [them].”
Pfeiffer projected that by next year, Sunday Swim will reach 1,000 participants.
“When you get out of that cold water, I promise you will have a smile on your face,” he said.
Zaslow of Cedars-Sinai issued a warning that participating in cold plunges might not be for everyone, depending on people’s health status.
The doctor explained that plunging into cold water can be “stressful” on the body and can cause respiratory distress, cardiac arrest or hypothermia in some cases.
She said those with underlying health conditions should speak with their doctors before trying it.
“When starting, you always want to start with very short intervals in the cold water and expand that as tolerated,” she advised.
“And make sure to [swim] with a buddy, so that if you do experience any changes,” then perhaps “your buddy would be able to get help.”
For anyone wanting more information on getting involved with Sunday Swim, the group’s email is email@example.com.