Are you ready to take the plunge? The cold plunge or ice bath was made famous throughout history to recover from workouts and improve overall wellness. The health benefits of cold plunges range from decreased swelling to pain relief and reduced injuries to lowering blood pressure. If that sounds delectable, let’s dive into your wellness routine.
What is a Cold Plunge?
A cold plunge or ice bath immerses your entire body in ice-cold water. While that might sound like a crazy idea, cold water immersion helps the body in many ways. It doesn’t have to be in the form of ice baths. A cold plunge can be a cold shower that lowers the body temperature, decreasing swelling in troublesome areas.
Restricting blood vessels reduces increased blood flow to muscles after a challenging workout. That rush of blood usually enhances swelling. By limiting it with cold exposure, muscles can recover without swelling and pain.
Health Benefits of Cold Therapy
There is a wide range of health benefits of cold therapy. Let’s look at each one to understand how brinLet’scold plunges into your life can better serve your help.
Increased blood circulation to vital organs is known for improving overall health. Redirecting blood to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys enables them to function better. When your body is submerged in a cold bath, your body temperature drops drastically, restricting your blood vessels. The body’s immediate response is to siphon blood to vital organs to ensure they continue functioning correctly.
As the body pushes more blood to those organs, the heart has to work more efficiently to get blood to the important places. Making your heart work more efficiently increases overall health. It helps decrease blood pressure and promote better heart health in the long term.
Cold showers increase cortisol and norepinephrine. Both of these chemicals cause an increase in alertness. Cortisol also helps to regulate metabolism, while norepinephrine increases arousal and attention. The combination of those feelings energizes you and enhances performance. Not a bad result for some cold water.
Reduced Muscle Inflammation
Reducing muscle inflammation after a hard workout keeps your body from feeling too achy. As we exercise, muscles get tiny tears in them. For this reason, recovery, like an ice bath, is so essential. The muscles need time to repair and grow. As the muscles tear, blood flow increases to the area to help with repairing the tears. While that is your body’s way of fixing itself, the blood flow can increase inflammation in the area, leading to pain and swelling.
Cold water immersion reduces the body’s temperature and constricts the blood vessels. Blood flow to the area decreases, leading to less inflammation and numbness. Cold water therapy helps with pain from muscle soreness, preventing high levels of lactic acid build-up. Sore muscles are a thing of the past.
Cold Water Equals A Better Mood
In addition to cooling down your body after a workout and quicker muscle recovery, ice baths decrease depression in some individuals. Cold exposure causes a release of neurotransmitters like dopamine. Since dopamine is a mood-boosting chemical, cold water immersion can help to improve your frame of mind and reduce anxiety and stress.
Improved Immune System
Two things happen when you try cold water therapy that boosts the immune system. When submerged in an ice bath, the first thing your body does is increase the number of white blood cells. White blood cells help to fight infection and viruses in the body. The second thing your body does in cold water is it constricts lymph vessels.
The lymphatic system relies on muscle contractions to move lymphatic fluid throughout the body. As the fluid moves, it rids the body of harmful microbes and toxins. Together, the white blood cells and the movement of lymphatic fluid boost the immune system by ridding the body of unwanted toxins or harmful viruses.
Increases Weight Loss
Cold water immersion can increase weight loss. As the body temperature drops, your body responds by igniting the digestion system to burn more calories to heat the body back to its average temperature. It is also known for increasing the basal metabolic rate, the minimum rate at which you burn calories. Increasing the number of calories burned can lead to weight loss. Cold showers must be paired with a healthy diet and exercise too.
Better Skin and Hair
Cold water can help your skin. Say what? It’s true. Cold water immersion causes a reduction in pore size and decreases the amount of oil on your skin that gets washed away. Instead, the oil stays under the surface of the skin and hair to moisturize. It keeps the hair and skin looking and feeling healthier with fewer breakouts and greasy hair follicles. Cold therapy activates hair follicles leading to thicker hair and better hair growth.
Knowing How Long To Plunge
Before taking the plunge, it’s essential to know how long an ice bath should be especially if it’s your first rodeo. Staying submerged in cold water for too long can negate the positive side effects. Follow the tips below to ensure your cold bath gets you the best results.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
If you have never done an ice bath before, it’s best to start slow. Unlike the cannonball we all like to do into a cold pool, this is more of a slow glide into the frigid temperatures that await you. Cold plunging takes time as your body tries to regulate your body temperature to endure the extreme cold. It’s best to start your first cold plunge by setting a one-minute timer.
Allow yourself to stay submerged in the cold bath for as long as you can in that one minute. Try to relax and focus on your breathing to remain calm. Increased breathing and nervousness can have the opposite effect on stress and anxiety.
Tolerance to Cold Water
Everyone has a different tolerance to cold water. Some people can stay in an ice bath for several minutes, while thirty seconds is all someone else can take. If you are cold plunging for the first time, try for one minute and then get out. You can gradually work your way up to longer. A cold shower might be a better alternative to an ice bath if you are just starting cold therapy. Since there is no submersion, you can stay in a cold shower longer. This will gradually build up your tolerance to cold water and eventually lead to a longer time in an ice bath.
While some people who swim in cold water often might find they can withstand an ice bath for longer, certain health conditions decrease cold tolerance. Those with health conditions should take extra care when incorporating cold-water immersion into their lifestyle. It’s best to check with a physician before attempting to ensure ice baths won’t be detrimental to your health.
More General Guidelines
For fit and healthy individuals, the recommendation is three to eight minutes of cold plunging in an ice bath. It’s best to set a timer to ensure you don’t go over the allotted time. Remember that incorporating cold-water immersion into your lifestyle needs to be done slowly. If you set a timer for three minutes, don’t feel like you have to stay in the entire time if you start to feel uncomfortable. It’s best to listen to your body and know your limitations.
Correct Temperature for An Ice Bath
The water temperature should be between 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered an ice bath. That is 10-15 degrees Celcius. This temperature gives you the right amount of cold water therapy for sore muscles and lowers anxiety. It’s vital not to just put cold water in a tub without testing the temperature. If it’s too cold, it could burn your skin, and if it’s not cold enough, it won’t reap the benefits of cold plunging.
When To Take Ice Baths
Any time of day works for cold plunges. Some people use them as a cool-down after their workouts since post-workout plunges help with muscle recovery and the build-up of lactic acid. Other people who suffer from health problems use ice baths to help with chronic pain. It depends on what the person is using cold therapy for as to what time of day it is most beneficial.
People Who Shouldn’t Take Cold Plunges
As with everything, certain people should avoid cold showers or ice baths as they can worsen symptoms of certain health conditions. In general, conditions that should avoid ice baths are listed below.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis – Blood clots deep in the vein that usually occur in the leg
- Peripheral Vascular Disease – A circulation disorder that causes the narrowing of blood vessels over time
- Open wounds
- People with diabetes who have limited feeling in certain areas due to poor blood circulation
- Stroke or dementia patients
- Allergies to cold
One way to incorporate cold therapy into your lifestyle is by contrast hydrotherapy. This method involves alternating between hot water and cold water. For instance, begin by taking a hot shower or submerging in hot water for three minutes. Then immediately switch to an ice bath or cold shower for three minutes. These steps are repeated two or three times. The alternating between cold and hot water leads to a pumping effect throughout the body as blood vessels open and close.
Final Thoughts on Cold Plunging
Ice baths and cold showers never sounded so good. While cold temperatures are something, you need to adjust to slowly, benefits like muscle recovery, lowering high blood pressure, and decreasing anxiety show that the cold water is worth it.
Frigid temperatures might not sound like fun, but submerging your whole body in cold baths might be what your body needs to jump-start weight loss. If the cold sounds too harsh, try your first ice bath after a hot one with contrast hydrotherapy. Finding new ways to increase overall health leads to a longer, less achy life.
Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.