These days cold water therapy is all the rage among athletes, yogis, and biohackers alike.
One dip in an ice bath, frozen lake, or cold shower is all it takes to snap your body to attention.
But what’s going on behind the scenes to make you feel so refreshed?
As it turns out, cold water therapy is much more than just a mental challenge…
It has a lot of underlying health benefits, including reducing muscle soreness and supporting mental health.
Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits of cold water therapy, including how to safely take the plunge at home.
What Is Cold Water Therapy?
Coldwater therapy, also known as cold hydrotherapy, is the practice of immersing yourself in water that’s around 59°F (15°C) or colder.
Believe it or not, some people prefer water that’s closer to 46°F (8°C). Now that’s cold!
The practice has been around for millennia, and there’s a lot of ways to do it, including:
- Ice baths
- Outdoor swims
- Cold showers
Regardless of the method, the same golden rule applies: lower your body temperature and strengthen your health!
As it turns out, when you expose your body to just the right amount of cold for just the right amount of time, some pretty cool side effects start to happen.
Let’s take a closer look!
How Cold Water Therapy Works Its Magic On the Body and Brain
Make no mistake about it, taking an ice bath or cold shower can leave you invigorated and alert.
According to Dr. Chris Bleakley of the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Research Institute, cold showers have several immediate effects on the body, including: (1)
- Higher blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Elevated respiratory rate
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased metabolism
Plus, as the body fights to stay warm it releases feel-good endorphins and boosts thermogenesis.
5 Health Benefits of Cold Water Therapy
What does hard science have to say about the health benefits of cold water therapy?
From boosting immunity to fighting inflammation, here are just a few of the health effects of cold immersion:
1. Less Muscle Soreness Post Workout
Coldwater exposure has natural pain-relieving effects.
It causes the blood vessels to constrict, reduces swelling, and slows the speed of nerve signals that communicate pain.
But those are just the immediate effects…
Studies also show that athletes who soak in cold water following exercise have less muscle soreness later on.
For example, one 2016 study found that athletes who soaked in cold water (12°C to 15°C) reported less muscle soreness. (2)
2. May Strengthen Immunity
Early research suggests that cold water therapy may boost immunity over a period of weeks or months.
For example, one study found that daily exposure to cold water can boost antitumor activity. (3)
At the same time, a separate study found that participants who practice deep breathing, meditation, and cold water immersion may do better at fighting infections. (4)
In the study, participants were exposed to a bacterial infection.
Researchers found that patients who did cold water immersion reported fewer symptoms and recovered faster.
3. May Fight Depression and Anxiety
Several small studies show that cold water therapy may ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly why cold immersion helps mental health, but they believe it may have something to do with reducing inflammation.
In one study, researchers concluded that a program of short, twice-daily cold showers can reduce feelings of depression. (5)
4. Boost Metabolism and Weight Loss
Can cold water therapy really help you lose weight?
Honestly, the jury is still out on this one, but some studies show that cold immersion can speed up your metabolic rate, which is great for weight loss.
One recent study determined that daily 5-minute immersions in water less than 59°F (15°C) can increase metabolism. (6)
However, no large studies indicate that ice baths can significantly increase weight loss.
5. Fight Inflammation
Coldwater immersion lowers your core body temperature, calms the central nervous system, and slows the inflammatory response.
Ultimately, by decreasing inflammation, you can recover faster and with less pain.
Keep in mind that some short-term inflammation is important for muscles to rebuild, so doing too much cold therapy after exercise might hurt your gains.
However, if you’re only worried about building strength and reducing soreness, post-workout cold therapy is the way to go.
How to Do Cold Water Therapy at Home
Ready to experience the benefits of cold water therapy for yourself?
Here are a few easy ways to try it out at home:
- Ice Bath: Fill a bathtub or chest freezer with water and add ice until the water temperature is between 50°F and 59°F (10°C and 15°C), but you can go as low as 8°C if you’re feeling brave. Sit/lay in the water up to your shoulders for 1-5 minutes.
- Cold Swim: Got a cold lake or outdoor pool nearby? Swim in it for a few minutes! It should do the trick.
- Cold Showers: Crank on the shower as cold as it goes and stand in it for 1-5 minutes.
- Alternate Warm-to-Cold Showers: If going straight to cold is too shocking, start with a warm shower and finish on cold, then allow your body to warm up naturally.
Cold Water Therapy Safety Tips
- Make sure someone is around to observe you the first time you try cold water therapy, especially if you’re swimming in open water.
- Symptoms of hypothermia and difficulty swimming can occur suddenly if you aren’t used to the cold.
- Be sure to warm up afterward. Immediately put on a hat and gloves, get out of your wet clothes and dry off. If you stay in the water too long, your body might struggle to warm up and increase the risk of hypothermia.
- Avoid taking a hot shower. The sudden change of blood pressure might cause you to pass out.
- Keep immersions brief. It only takes a few minutes to lower your core body temperature and experience the health benefits of cold water therapy.
If you have any more questions about the health benefits of cold therapy, feel free to reach out to us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.