Take The Plunge - Why Immersing Yourself in Cold Water Has Multiple Health Benefits
The Benefits/Advantages of Immersing Yourself in Ice Cold Water
Almost all of us have experienced the horror of stepping under a shower only to find the water freezing cold. Whether it's down to a family member using hot water elsewhere in the house, a broken heating system, or you've just not set the shower correctly, the experience is not one we tend to gravitate towards.
However, you may want to reconsider before hastily reaching for the temperature dial.
A growing body of research is showing that ice-cold water baths, showers, and swims are not only invigorating but have multiple health benefits.
Here, we'll take a look at 5 of the benefits ice-cold water can have to your wellbeing.
1. Reduces muscle soreness
One of the key benefits of ice water therapy is it reduces inflammation in our muscle tissue resulting in less muscle soreness.
After a long day or a hard workout, our muscles are particularly prone to feel sore. Waddling out the gym after gym day is not fun. Screaming muscles can often lead to an uncomfortable night's sleep and a miserable next day.
In the world of athletics, the benefits of ice baths on muscle fatigue are already well-established. A recent 2016 study found that athletes who underwent cold water therapy after training experienced significantly less soreness the following day.
The theory behind the treatment is that cold water decreases tissue oxygenation, which occurs during activity. This is facilitated by the lowering of skin temperature, accelerating the process.
2. Boosts immune system
A healthy immune system is the key to vitality. Weakened auto-immune responses not only cause us to be ill more often but also for illnesses to stick around longer than normal.
Behind our immune system are the autonomic nervous system and the innate immune response, both ordinarily considered aspects of our body difficult - or impossible - to "train.”
However, a study conducted in 2014 throws shade on this conclusion, having participants partake in cold water baths and other activities like meditation and breathing exercises.
Using a control group to validate the results, the group subjected to cold water baths experienced fewer symptoms when they experienced a bacterial infection. The study found that the plasma levels of the anti-inflammatory chemic cytokine IL-10 greatly increased while pro-inflammatory chemical responses were subdued.
The upshot of this is that our immune system can essentially be prepped to deal with illnesses ahead of time. In combination with other techniques like meditation, a regular cold water bath seems to go a long way in keeping us ready to tackle infections.
3. Helps in controlling stress
One of the best reasons to take an ice bath is because it can help reduce the amount of stress you experience in your daily life.
While, ordinarily, a candle-lit soak in the tub, some music playing, and a drink in hand seems the best way to de-stress, the opposite may also be true.
Cold weather therapy is known to stimulate the vagus nerve, a signal to your body that it's time to relax. Regular stimulation of the nerve can have long-term benefits such as improvements in your general mood and an ability to tolerate stressful situations better.
With the vagus nerve sitting where your neck meets your shoulder, a deep cold bath is one of the best ways to activate the area and reap the other benefits at the same time.
4. Eases depression
While no one is going to emerge from a cold water bath cured of depression, there are now multiple studies to show such therapy can alleviate symptoms.
A 2008 study found that cold showers helped increase the levels of endorphins and noradrenaline by activating the sympathetic nervous system. These pair, in combination, make us feel good (endorphins) and alert (noradrenaline).
The anti-depressant effect of cold water is theorized to be down to it acting as a simulation for physiological stress factors we'd have experienced throughout human history. While subjecting yourself to stress might not seem like a good idea, stressors like changes in body temperature might be important to our mental well-being,
The author of the 2008 study argues:
"A lifestyle that lacks certain physiological stressors that have been experienced by primates through millions of years of evolution, such as brief changes in body temperature (e.g., cold swim), and this lack of "thermal exercise" may cause inadequate functioning of the brain."
With case studies supporting the theory, taking regular cold showers or baths may just make depression a little easier to live with.
5. May aid weight loss
While cold water baths aren't going to allow you to cancel the gym membership or become a VIP at your local All-You-Can-Eat, evidence suggests they may at least help weight loss plans by boosting your metabolic rate.
With a high metabolism comes a higher capacity to burn calories. And while there's still no conclusive evidence to suggest a cold bath will shift a few pounds, those with a sluggish metabolism may benefit from the treatment to help their other weight loss efforts.
At the very least, ice water therapy helps facilitate recovery. So, come the day after a jog or a gym session, you'll be rested and ready to go again.
Ice Bath Tips
If you’re convinced of the benefits of an ice bath and want to try it for yourself, here are a few tips on getting started.
- Using a thermometer, add ice to cold water until it hits somewhere between 10 and 15° Celsius (50-50° Fahrenheit).
- If used for muscle recovery, ice baths work best immediately after exercise.
- Submerge yourself quickly.
- Don’t spend longer than 10 minutes in the bath as the cold water can constrict blood vessels and restrict blood flow.
Most importantly, if at any point concerned, consult your doctor immediately. While perfectly safe for the vast majority of people, ice-cold water baths are not recommended for individuals with some health conditions.
Cold water baths are, therefore, one of the easiest ways you can help your mind and body, all by the turn of a temperature dial. Take the plunge and see for yourself!
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