Swedish Press Dec 21/Jan 22 Vol 92:08 Sample

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December 2021/January 2022 Vol 92:08 $9.95

08 2021

Bathing Like a Dictator | History of the Sauna | A Magical Place at Christmas

Photo: Linda Vagnelind/visitsweden.com

Why Scandinavians Love Winter Swimming The tradition of vinterbad runs deep in Nordic culture. As data continue to trumpet its health benefits, cold bathing’s global popularity is increasing. By Kajsa Norman


or many Scandinavians, swimming isn’t merely a summertime activity. Kallbad, or cold baths, are popular year-round. There are two obvious reasons. If people only take the plunge when the water is warm, we wouldn’t get to do it very often. Also, there is something about braving the cold that reawakens the Viking in us. Rarely does one feel as awake and alive as when emerging from a body of ice-cold water. And there are increasing amounts of scientific data to support what Scandinavians have instinctively known for ages – polar plunges aren’t just about being tough; they are good for you. Scientists at Oulu University in Finland have conducted several studies on winter swimming over the years. A study published

in 2004 found that regular winter swimming improves memory, sleep, and mood, and decreases stress and tension. Ice cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict as they try to retain body heat. The blood pressure increases, and endorphins are released. Regular cold bathing can improve one’s mental health and cure mild depressions. “I took my first cold bath in May of last year and now I can’t do without. I’ve become completely addicted to the cold,” says Carin Pallin from Dösjebro in southwest Skåne. Like many others, Carin took up cold bathing during the pandemic. “These days we rarely expose our bodies to physical stress. We’re almost always comfortable, but the body learns to tolerate the cold. I always enter the water straight away and

regardless of temperature I stay in for two minutes or until I can no longer feel my feet. Instead of screaming in panic because of the cold, I take deep breaths. It’s reminiscent of meditation or of taking a sedative. I used to be a coward when it came to swimming, but now bathing in the summertime has almost lost its allure. I’ve spent the summer longing for the temperature to drop and for the real bathing season to begin,” she says. Many people like to prepare for their invigorating open-air kallbad by heating up in a sauna. Besides making it easier to take the plunge, exposing the body to alternating cold and heat improves metabolism, strengthens the immune system, and increases energy levels. It also causes the heart to beat faster, leading to increased oxygen uptake and blood circulation. Swedish Press | Dec 2021/Jan 2022 | 11

Varberg Cold bath house. Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

Polar Plunging in the Swedish South Instead of island-hopping in the Caribbean this winter, why not polar plunge your way along the southwest coast of Sweden? Here’s a selection of the region’s most stunning open-air bath houses. By Kajsa Norman


ummer and winter alike, Swedes and Danes flock to the beautiful open-air bath houses dotting the southern coastline of Sweden. These places are havens of relaxation where swimmers indulge in invigorating open-air dips between sauna sessions. While you’ll find places that offer cold dipping across Scandinavia, they are often housed in hotel and spa facilities and can be quite costly. It is, however, along the southwestern coast

of Sweden where one finds the highest density of kallbadhus, many of which are historic, affordable (around $10 for a day pass), and open year-round to the public. Usually located on the sea, the first fully-fledged cold bath houses in Sweden began to emerge in the late 1800s. Cold baths had long been thought to have healing abilities and these kallbadhus quickly became popular. There is no need to pack swim wear as nudity is encouraged, and, in

some places, mandatory. Kallbadhus have one area dedicated to men and one to women. Most facilities rent out towels for a dollar or two making it easy for visitors to drop in at the spur of the moment. There is often a café or restaurant to accommodate those wishing to spend the whole day.

Photo: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

Varberg uilt on stilts in 1903, Kallbadhuset Varberg is a Swedish icon. Set within an oriental-style building, complete with decorative domes, this west coast gem’s history can be traced back to the 1820s when a floating pool

was built to allow for cold dips in the ocean. From the sauna you look out at Kattegat, the strait between Denmark and Sweden. Day pass: Adults 80 SEK ($9 USD). Youth, 15 and younger 40 SEK ($ 4.50 USD)

B Swedish Press | Dec 2021/Jan 2022 | 12

Here are a few towns and cities in the Swedish south particularly wellsuited for winter swimming:

Helsingborg elsingborg has a long tradition of kallbadhus dating back 150 years. Still to this day there are several options within close proximity of one another. Kallbadhuset Kallis, established in 1865, is the oldest and most popular, located in the heart of the city. Views are stunning with both the sauna and dock overlooking Danish Kronborg Castle (home to Shakespeare’s Hamlet) in Helsingør (Elsinore). Cold dipping in Öresund, the strait which forms the Danish–


Swedish border, is a wonderful experience, especially at this, the narrowest point of the strait where the Danish mainland is a mere 3.5 kilometers away. For other nearby kallbadhus you can walk 15-minutes north along the beach to Pålsjöbaden, or drive 15 minutes south to Rååbaden, located in the quaint, old fishing village of Råå. Day pass for Kallis, Pålsjöbaden or Rååbaden: Adults 70 SEK ($8 USD), Youth (age 13-15) 40 SEK ($4.50 USD). Children 12 and under are free.

Båstad kallbadhus. Photo: Anders Karolyi

Båstad n the 1800s, doctors prescribed timed health baths in Båstad for the ailing. Horses with carriages would pull visitors into the water for a dip in the ocean. A proper kallbadhus was first built on the site in 1848. It was destroyed and replaced a few times, most recently in 2009. Today, it houses a sauna, hot pool, and fireplace where visitors can heat up in between cold dips. Day pass: Adults 120 SEK ($14 USD) (Mon-Thursday), 150 SEK ($17 USD) (Fri-Sun), Children under 13 years 60 SEK ($7 USD) (Wednesdays only)


Photo: Lisa Wikstrand

Karlshamn n the east coast sits Karlshamns Kallbadhus, a 2015, modernist addition to the mainly traditional bath houses of the south. Designed by White Architects, it has been likened to a “flying saucer”. It’s as Scandinavian as it gets with angular, perfectly balanced lines. It sits on stilts and has floor to ceiling windows that optimise the spectacular views of this idyllic spot. Open most days of the year, there are separate areas for men and women. Day pass: Adults 100 SEK ($12 USD).


Photo: White Architects

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Photo: Malmö kallbadhus. LGB/Bastugillet.se

Malmö here are several cold bath houses on the southern shores near Malmö, but the most famous one – Ribersborgs Kallbadhus – popularly known as Ribban, is located in the heart of the city. Inaugurated in 1898, Ribban in Malmö is one of the oldest and best-preserved cold bath houses still in operation. It’s built in the exotic style typical of turn-of-the century baths, complete with a 170 meter long dock.


The bath house is open year-round and has separate areas for men and women. The first Monday of every month is Queer Kallis, primarily aimed at transgender and non-binary visitors. On those days, both the women’s and men’s sections are open to all, leaving visitors free to choose where they prefer to swim and sauna. Day pass: Adults 70 SEK ($8 USD). Free for children 7 and younger.

Ulricehamn 90-minute car ride inland from Gothenburg, sits Kallbadhuset Ulricehamn. Located on the shores of Lake Åsunden, it is an exception to the rule of oceanfront locations. The bath house in its current form opened its doors in 2008, but the town has housed kallbadhus since 1871. Day pass: Adults 70 SEK ($8 USD). Children up to age 12 free if accompanied by an adult.


Photo: Morot12/commons.wikimedia.org

Bjärred he cold bath Bjerreds Saltsjöbad is one of Skåne’s most beautiful kallbadhus, inaugurated in 1901. That same year a railroad connection to Lund was established and on Sundays, as many as 5,000 people would take the train to spend the day on the coast in Bjärred. Others arrived from Malmö by boat to bathe and enjoy the surrounding nature. In those days, Bjärred, along with Mölle and Falsterbo, were among the most famous Swedish bathing destinations. The original building is long gone, but the ritual of kallbad remains. The current kallbadhus, built in 2004, is of modern, Scandinavian design. It also features the longest dock in Sweden; 574 meters straight out into Öresund (600 meters including the distance to the women’s sauna). Day pass: Adults 80 SEK ($9 USD), Youth (age 13-17) 50 SEK ($6 USD), Children (age 7-12) 30 SEK ($3.50 USD).


Photo: Peo Hedin/unsplash.com

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History of the Sauna

Winter swimming is best enjoyed when combined with sauna bathing. Here’s a brief history of Finland’s greatest export, loved by Scandinavians worldwide. By Kajsa Norman


ith over 3 million saunas for its 5 million residents, there are more saunas than cars in Finland. The Finnish parliament has its own sauna chamber for MPs to debate in, and all Finnish diplomatic, consular and military missions around the world have saunas. In Helsinki, one can go and see a live hockey game from a private sauna box fitted with tinted glass or have a burger and sauna at Burger King. 99 percent of Finns reportedly hit the sauna at least once a week. Not strange then, that Finnish sauna culture has been added to UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But how did all begin? In Finland, the ritual of sauna bathing dates back thousands of years. The word sauna is the only Finnish word in the English dictionary. It means “bath” or “bathhouse” and is thought to be a derivative of the word savuna, meaning "in smoke". Smoke was an intrinsic part of the earliest forms of sauna, which consisted of man-made caves or pits, draped

A sauna on a lake in Finland. Photo: Anne Nygård/unsplash.com

closed with animal skins. During the day, a fire would burn beneath a pile of stones. After the fire was extinguished and the smoke wafted out, the stones would continue to warm the cave long into the night, providing warmth and allowing people to bask in the steam that rose from the stones when water was poured on them. As the Finns (originally a nomadic people) begun to settle, the sauna structures became more permanent. However, the procedure of heating stones for about 6 to 8 hours and then letting the smoke out, remained. The residual heat in the stones would keep the sauna warm for up to 12 hours. These chimneyless smoke saunas (today known as savusaunat) were the norm for hundreds of years and a series of traditions and beliefs developed around them. As the walls of traditional smoke saunas were lined with bacteria-resistant soot, the sauna was the family’s cleanest and most sterile place, ideal for rites of passage. As recently as the turn of the 20th century, women in rural areas would give birth in saunas and old people often dragged themselves there

to die. Women would carry out the purification ritual before marriage in the sauna. Known as “the poor man’s pharmacy”, the sauna was also used as an infirmary, where blood-letting and minor operations were performed. Over time, the sauna acquired spiritual significance. “In the sauna, one must conduct oneself as one would in church,” goes an old saying, still heard in Finland today. Water is thrown on the heated stones to give off sauna steam known as löyly. Originally this word meant “spirit”, referring to the sauna's old, spiritual essence. Each sauna is considered to have its own character and its own distinctive löyly, the quality of which determines how enjoyable the sauna is. By the 1920’s, smoke saunas began to be replaced by iron stoves that heated up baskets of rocks, venting the smoke through a chimney. This enabled saunas to be heated faster. The first electric sauna was invented in Finland, then popularised in the USA in the 1950s. This made saunas more accessible to a wider audience across the western world and beyond. Swedish Press | Dec 2021/Jan 2022 | 15

A Sauna A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

If tar, vodka or the sauna won’t help, then the disease is probably fatal, goes an old Finnish proverb. While that might be an exaggeration, here are the top 10 health benefits the sauna does offer: By Kajsa Norman 1. Boost the immune system: According to The Finnish Medical Society, people who take regular saunas have a 30 percent less chance of catching a cold. The body increases the production of heat shock proteins (HSPs) which prevent our bodies from becoming overheated and stimulate our immune system by putting the body into an artificial fever state (hyperthermia). This "fake fever" increases production of disease-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. 2. Improve cardiovascular health: Several studies have found that frequent sauna use leads to fewer cardiovascular-related deaths. Blood vessels stay elastic and pliable longer due to regular dilation and contraction from the process of heating and cooling the body repeatedly. 3. Flush out toxins Perspiration induced by a sauna opens the body's pores and naturally expels impurities such as nicotine, pesticides, salts, nitrogen, lead, nickel and cadmium. It also helps to maintain clear, healthy skin. 4. Decrease the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia A study by the University of Eastern Finland, carried out over a a 20-year period, found that regular sauna use significantly reduces the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. The International Alzheimer's Society also Swedish Press | Dec 2021/Jan 2022 | 16

Lakeside Sauna. Photo: Atle Mo/unsplash.com

cites sweating as a means of improving brain health. 5. Regenerate after exercise Some high-performance athletes use the sauna after intensive training sessions to promote recovery. A 2020 study found this practice to also improve endurance. After three weeks, participants increased oxygen utilization by 8 percent and time to exhaustion by 12 percent.

6. Decrease stress For many people today, stress is a top health risk. Saunas are well-known for promoting relaxation and releasing tense muscles. 7. Improve sleep Saunas can lead to faster, deeper, more relaxed sleep. According to a 2019 global survey, over 80 percent of respondents reported sleeping better after using a sauna once or twice a week.

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