Doctors warn that one of the most popular new winter activities is also one of the deadliest.  It’s the polar plunge, where you run into the freezing ocean or lake water! But plungers, beware! You could be plunging your way to an early death – no matter how young or fit you are!

Dr. David Fried is a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. And he explains that when you jump into cold water, the extreme temperature change shocks your system and you go into “fight or flight” mode. Adrenaline surges through your body straining your heart and causing you to gasp for air while blood rushes to your inner organs to keep them warm. If you’re healthy, the shock wears off after a couple of minutes, and you’re fine. But if you have an underlying medical issue – like a heart condition – the spike in adrenaline can easily trigger a heart attack.

And the problems don’t end there. If you panic in the water and start gasping for air, you can easily inhale enough water to drown - even in a few feet of water. Even people who swim well in warm water are at risk for drowning in cold water. That’s because your muscles get cold and are instantly paralyzed, and you can become very weak.

So, how can you do a polar plunge safely?

First: Get a check-up pre-plunge. Especially if your family history includes stroke, aneurysm, or sudden cardiac arrest.

And when it comes to the actual plunge, don’t make a mad dash for it. Because sudden temperature changes drastically raise your risk of a heart attack. Instead, walk slowly into the water so your body acclimates better to the cold and then slowly walk out!

And, post-plunge: Treat yourself to a hot bath - for a maximum of 15 minutes to help you safely warm back up.