Cold Water Therapy – aka Cold Plunge – is an ancient practice that improves overall health and immune function, reduces pain and inflammation, stress, boosts energy, and helps with weight loss. Your One Agora integrative healthcare specialist can determine if this treatment is right for you.
It is not known whether mood improvements are a result of the exercise, the cold shock response, prolonged body cooling or the adaptive responses that occur with habitual immersion.
Increases Blood Circulation
Cold water immersion stimulates blood flow by causing a vascular dilation that helps move the waste products of cell metabolism through the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body. It also encourages the release of the natural hormone norepinephrine, a vasodilator that can help with pain management.
In fact, a study showed that people who took a cold shower daily for one month reported being sick 29% less than those who did not. To improve the effects of cold showers, hydration is key, as is massage therapy or foam rolling to enhance blood circulation.
Cold plunges, or ice baths, are another popular method of boosting energy, reducing inflammation and preventing muscle soreness. Involving plunging into icy water, this type of treatment has been practiced by people for centuries, and it’s often paired with breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises. It’s a popular aspect of the Wim Hof method, a regimen that combines breathing exercises and cold exposure to boost performance.
Reduces Muscle Soreness
Ice baths are a popular recovery technique that can help ease sore muscles after intense workouts. This is because the cold water causes the blood vessels in your muscles to constrict, which reduces inflammation and pain. It’s also a great way to prevent muscle damage and improve your performance in your next workout.
Besides helping your muscles, cold water immersion can also benefit your tendons. The increased blood flow helps in the repair of damaged tendons and in reducing the chances of tendon injuries.
Moreover, cold water immersion can stimulate the production of melatonin, which is necessary for the sleep-wake cycle. This is essential for proper muscle recovery. In addition, it promotes the elimination of waste products from your body, such as lactic acid, after intense exercise. This process is called lymphatic drainage. It’s important to note that while a cold shower might work in a pinch, immersion is better because it’s more uniform and affects the whole body.
Many people participating in the Wim Hof Method (WHM) swear that regular cold showers and ice baths help boost their immune system. These claims are backed by some research, but more high-quality studies are needed to confirm them.
Researchers have found that dipping in cold water can increase the number of white blood cells in the body, which can help fight infections. In one study, subjects who jumped into cold water regularly showed increased plasma concentrations of IL-6, leukocytes, and monocytes compared to non-habitual winter swimmers.
Jumping into freezing temperatures to float in icy waters is often referred to as a “cold plunge” or a “polar bear plunge.” It’s been promoted by health influencers and celebrities, including actors Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Bell.
This type of cold exposure triggers your sympathetic nervous system to release massive amounts of norepinephrine into brown fat cells, causing them to burn food for heat. This is how the body generates energy and can stimulate long-term weight loss.
Cold water therapy, such as a cold shower or ice bath, boosts mood by changing the way your nervous system communicates with your brain. You’ll feel more relaxed, happy and energetic.
Jumping in a cold lake, river or ocean and splashing yourself with icy water may sound intimidating but it’s actually surprisingly doable. Even if you aren’t ready to go all in, you can do this by slowly building up sessions and gradually increasing the temperature.
We found that short-term whole-body immersion in cold water increases positive affect and reduces negative mood disturbance independently of the participants’ swimming. Changes in mood were accompanied by changes in functional connectivity in several large-scale brain networks, suggesting that this kind of mental challenge has integrative effects on brain functioning. Moreover, the increase in positive affect was associated with the reverse coupling between MPFC and ACC, which suggests that this process can be adjusted flexibly depending on the valence of emotional experiences.