Rehabilitation & Recovery

6 Chilling Ice Cold Water Therapy Benefits For Better Health

cold water therapy benefits

Several days after physical exercise, more often than not, you can expect delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to kick in.  

How can you overcome this soreness to get back into the gym? 

There are a number of passive methods such as sports massage or acupressure which can help to alleviate muscle tightness.  

Another method which has grown in popularity is that of cold water therapy.  

While it’s normally associated as a treatment undertaken by professional athletes, cold water benefits mean that it’s become more popular over recent years with many people undertaking regular ice baths or having cold showers.   

What is Cold Water Therapy?

Cold water therapy is to immerse your body in water that has a temperature ranging from 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cold water therapy has been proven to offer several physiological and psychological benefits.  

cold water therapy

Sometimes called cold hydrotherapy, there are several ways to undertake cold water therapy.

If you’re brave enough, you could try outdoor cold-water swimming. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer cold water therapy at home then consider having a cold bath or shower.

If you enjoy it, you may even find yourself investing in a specially designed cold tub! 

Cold Water Therapy Benefits

While it can be uncomfortable to begin with, there are many cold therapy benefits that just might entice you into reducing the temperature next time you’re in the shower.  

Let’s take a look at these ice plunge benefits in more detail.

Good For Your Immune System

When you teach your body to become accustomed to extreme water temperature changes, your body can become more resilient.  

This can actually improve your immune response by increasing the number of white blood cells within your body.  

This in turn will help you to fight off infections and viruses such as the common cold and other similar health conditions.  

​Boosts Testosterone

Cold immersion prior to exercise has shown to provide a short term increase in testosterone levels and luteinizing hormones. This can help to increase muscle mass and strength along with energy levels.  

Faster Muscle Recovery

Studies have shown that cold-water immersion can reduce inflammation and swelling helping to alleviate sore muscles.  

This is especially beneficial after exercise as the cold temperatures restrict your blood vessels limiting blood flow to the muscles which also means it can help to lower joint pain.  

This allows your muscles to recover much quicker than if cold water therapy were not undertaken.  

This can be helpful for athletes who need to train regularly.  

Improves Circulation

Regular cold baths can boost your blood circulation.  This is because the shock of cold water essentially stresses the body causing an increase in blood being pumped.  

This boost to the circulatory system helps to deliver more nutrient and oxygen rich blood to your muscles and organs.  

Helps With Weight Loss

There are two types of fat within the body, white fat and brown fat.  

Brown fat helps to regulate body temperature and reduce blood sugar levels.  On the other hand, white fat stores energy, protects the vital organs of the body and produces several hormones.  

Whilst both types of fat are important, an accumulation of white fat is what leads to obesity.  

Exposure to extreme cold water on a regular basis encourages more accumulation of brown fat.  This is because it’s working to warm up the body thereby increasing your metabolic rate and burning more calories to white body fat.  

Improves Mental Health

Cold water therapy benefits have shown a positive effect on mental health.  It can decrease stress levels by releasing more noradrenaline and endorphins into your body.  

Anecdotal evidence has shown that the therapeutic effects of taking a regular cold shower or ice bath can not only help symptoms of depression but also treat it.  

Cold Water Therapy Methods

There are several techniques to consider when you’re looking to reap the health benefits of cold water therapy.  Below we consider the most common, some of which you can do at home.  

Cold Shower

cold shower

The best way of introducing yourself to cold water therapy is to simply start taking cold showers.  

Most shower units are capable of getting to the desired temperature once adjusted to their lowest setting.  It’s certainly not as intense as completely immersing your whole body, it does however offer a similar effect.

Ice Bath

ice bath

Ice baths can be done in your very own tub, simply fill it with cold water and throw in some ice cubes to further decrease the temperature.  

If you don’t have a bathtub, you could consider investing in a dedicated ice bath tub.  

These are designed to be located outdoors and look quite similar to an oversize barrel with a lid.  They can often be flat packed for easy storage and the lid helps to regulate the temperature and keep any bugs out.  

Open Water Swimming

cold water swimming

Outdoor swims can be done either in the ocean, lakes or any other open body of water and can be very invigorating.  You’ll need to be a strong swimmer for this as the cold shock can really take your breath away.  

Whole Body Cryotherapy

cryotherapy

Ok, so this option isn’t technically plunging yourself into cold water, it does however offer the same benefits of cold water immersion.  

This form of therapy is usually done in a clinic and involves exposing your body to extremely cold and dry air (not water!) that reaches temperatures as low as -140 degrees Celsius.  

How Long Should You Do Cold Water Therapy?

If you’re a beginner to cold water therapy, then aim to stand in the shower or submerged in your bath for around 1 to 2 minutes at least 2 times per week.

Once your body becomes accustomed to these temperatures, you can gradually increase the time until you reach a maximum of 15 minutes without exceeding this time period.  

cold-therapy

If you’re making use of an outdoor ice tub or swimming outdoors, be sure to wear a swimming hat (ideally made of neoprene or silicone) as this will help to retain body heat.  

Remember, if you’ve never had an ice bath before or taken a shower on its lowest temperature, then it’s a good idea to get your body used to it first.  Don’t be tempted to dive off a cliff into icy cold water!  

Dangers of Cold Water Therapy

Cold water immersion therapy sessions may not be suitable for everyone and it’s worth considering some of the disadvantages with this form of treatment.  

A key point is that taking an ice bath will not cause hypothermia.  

This is because hypothermia tends to set in after you’ve been immersed in cold water for longer than 30 minutes, depending on the water temperature.

Cold Shock

Cold shock is one of the most common cited drawbacks of sudden cold exposure.  

As the skin temperature decreases quickly this results in a gasp response which causes a sudden change to your breathing pattern which will, in the short term, increase both your blood pressure and heart rate.  

Cramp

Muscle contraction can occur from submerging yourself in very cold water which may then result in cramping.

Whille this won’t necessarily pose a problem for those in the shower or bath tub, it can be dangerous for those swimming outdoors especially if it limits your ability to swim properly.  

Asthma Attacks

If you happen to suffer from asthma, be very cautious if considering cold water therapy.  The extreme temperatures of cold water can impact your breathing which may trigger an asthma attack. 

Stress Cardiomyopathy

Those with heart conditions should give ice baths a miss.  As very cold water quickly increases heart rate and blood pressure this can, in those with under lying heart problems, cause cardiac arrest.   

When Is the Best Time of Day to do Cold Water Therapy?

When you choose to take your ice bath or cold shower really depends on personal preference.  

Some people enjoy doing it first thing in the morning as the invigorating and energising effects can set them up for the day while giving their mood a boost.  

Many people also undertake cold water therapy as a pre-bedtime ritual.  Even though it stimulates the whole body by increasing circulation, heart rate and energy levels in the short term, it does also promote better quality sleep.

This is due to the release of melatonin, which is the sleep-wake cycle hormone. However, be sure to take the plunge at least 1 hour before bedtime.  

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the benefits of ice baths and other forms of cold-water therapy you can decide whether or not this form of treatment is for you.  

If you’re new to this technique, then it’s a good ideal to acclimatize your body so that you can gradually adjust to the effects of very cold water.  

Start in your shower and slowly decrease the temperature until as low as is comfortable and stay under the water for no longer than 15 minutes.  

Once your body becomes used to the effects of cold water therapy you can take the plunge and purchase your very own ice bath tub.   

One thing’s for sure, it won’t be long until you reap those ice cold water benefits.

​If you’re unsure then seek advice from a medical professional or practitioner who will be able to offer advice on this form of treatment taking into account any pre-existing conditions.

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