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In frigid Toronto, women dive into an ice-cold lake for energy boost

TORONTO (Reuters) -Clad in their swimsuits, a toque and warm wool mittens, a group of giddy Canadian women dunked into an ice-cold Lake Ontario on Wednesday for a sunrise swim, cheering each other while enjoying the orange hues of the winter sun and the chill wind.

While the rest of Toronto was wrapped in winter coats and thick scarves, this group of about 20 women took the plunge in -24 degrees Celsius (11.2 Fahrenheit), made cooler by the icy wind.

The swimmers gathered early morning with thermoses in their hands before stripping off their winter coats and running into the approaching waves.

"This is definitely pushing the limits," Anna Clarey, one of the swimmers, said before stepping into the water.

"With the wind chill, it's about -25 degrees Celsius ... this is one of the most challenging days, but it will be great," said Clarey, who spent about five minutes in the water, said.

She is not alone braving the frigid conditions. Many Toronto residents regularly dip into ice-cold waters, seeking health benefits.

Cold plunges have become increasingly popular in Canada and are believed to have health benefits by some advocates, including reduced inflammation, enhanced blood circulation, and elevated levels of dopamine and endorphins, leading to increased joy and energy throughout the day.

While these benefits have not been scientifically established, organizations like the American Heart Association have warned about potential health risks from the activity.

Martina Marek said she has embraced cold exposure for eight years, after witnessing the impact of Alzheimer's on a friend named Bernie. For the first three years, she plunged alone before forming a group.

"I learnt about all the health benefits it's going to give me," Marek said.

Marek's group of over 60 individuals communicate on Whatsapp and can join the group only after participating in two dips.

Toronto is getting its first brush of winter in January as temperature drops below -10 degrees Celsius, following an unusually warm Christmas with no snow.

When they emerged onto the icy shore of the lake after the dip, the women celebrated briefly before dashing into the warmth.

"It shoots my dopamine levels high, my endorphins high and all day I'm just full of energy," Marek added.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Kyaw Soe Oo in TorontoEditing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)