Medical benefits seen in chilly dips
Yongjiang River, which runs through the center of Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, is a popular swimming spot among residents, especially in the colder months.
Winter swimming has grown in popularity along the 133-kilometer waterway ever since Mao Zedong took a dip during a Communist Party of China meeting in the city in January 1958.
The activity reached a peak during the “cultural revolution” (1966-76), when the local government organized winter-swimming contests.
Guan Hong started swimming in the river in 1993 at the behest of his father.
“He was seriously ill at the time and I swam only occasionally,” Guan says. “Before he died he persuaded me to swim every day, saying that staying healthy was the most important thing in life.”
The 63-year-old is a member of the Guangxi Red Cross Life-Saving Volunteer Team and is among those to have received an official certificate from the regional government.
He believes winter swimming is good for the heart and vital capacity, and to prove his point he says that 10 years ago, after retiring, he cycled from Nanning to the northernmost part of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, the birthplace of his parents, and a distance of nearly 3,000 kilometers.
“The whole trip lasted more than 20 days. When I reached my hometown all my relatives were astonished. If I hadn’t done all that winter swimming I don’t think I would have been healthy or strong enough to ride such a long distance.”
Zhao Quan, 78, who has been swimming in the Yongjiang River since the 1960s, says: “Winter swimming is more than just a sport to Nanning people.”