Finland has long been known as one of the happiest nations in the world, and one of the reasons is that its citizens wholeheartedly embrace nature. While the country's winters may seem outrageously cold and filled with long, dark days, that doesn't stop Finns from venturing outside and enjoying the ice-cold, crisp winter air.

For centuries, ice swimming has been a popular way for Finns to stay active and enjoy the outdoors during winter. Many swimming holes are carved out of frozen lakes near saunas so people can hop back and forth between the two.

One winter, photographer Markku Lahdesmaki was in his native country of Finland to visit family and friends. He decided to drive around and search for interesting things to photograph. He ended up at Lake Näsijärvi in the city of Tampere.

"I was walking toward the swimming area, and suddenly I noticed that there are people over there," Lahdesmaki told MNN. "When I got closer I noticed that they were almost naked and walking toward the frozen lake."

Lahdesmaki couldn't believe what he was seeing. "I was expecting to find a quiet, snowy and frozen beach and lake, but instead I found many people in their swimming suits and speedos walking to the hole on the ice and then back to the outside sitting area and sauna."

Finnish lady winter swimming
Irma has been ice swimming for 51 years. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)

He grabbed his camera and starting taking photos. He met a 71-year-old lady named Irma, and a father and son who enjoy ice swimming together. The father, Matti, told Lahdesmaki that he was the 1994 Finnish Gunniess record holder for a 25-meter ice swim.

Finns in bathing suits in winter
Even though it's below freezing, Finns enjoy conversing outside the sauna after taking a brisk dip in the lake. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)

While ice swimming in Finland is typically enjoyed by older people, Lahdesmaki was surprised to see some younger people there as well.

Finnish hole in the ice
Most avantos are located right next to a sauna. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)

Even though Lahdesmaki grew up in Finland, he'd never been swimming outside in the winter. But that was about to change. He made a promise that in exchange for taking photographs that day, he would join them for a dip in the lake.

frozen lake Finland
Finns believe that ice swimming can prevent colds and relieve stress. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)

"When I was walking towards the hole in the ice, I was probably thinking 'OMG, this is crazy. I need to go. I can't turn back. Just walk, walk.'"

When he first entered the water, he couldn't breath and thought his heart stopped as the frozen shock spread throughout his body. After just a few seconds, he got out — and quickly realized why the people enjoyed it so much.

"The cold winter air was feeling very pleasant," he said. "It was a bit of a surreal moment — the feeling of pleasure after the plunge was strong and urged me to do it again." Lahdesmaki went back into the lake six more times — with a hot sauna break in between, of course.

Finnish ladies in winter outside sauna
Even if it's subzero temperatures, Finns will gladly stand outside after a swim. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)
senior man, ice swimming in Finland
On this day, the temperature was minus 11 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo: Markk Lahdesmaki)
man swimming in frozen lake
Ice swimming is also popular in Norway and Sweden. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)
elderly man on dock
Sometimes it's nice just to enjoy a peaceful moment of solitude while trying not to freeze. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)
two women in swimsuits on frozen lake
Ice swimming is growing in popularity with younger people. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)
Finland winter swimming in lake
Lahdesmaki stumbled upon the ice lake swimmers and ended up socializing with the group. (Photo: Markku Lahdesmaki)
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