The list of ice bath benefits for health and wellness are extensive. In this article, we are going to go over all of the known benefits, and discuss them in detail.
Ice bathing, also called cold water immersion, is a technique that has been in use for decades, primarily as a tool to promote muscle recovery and improve athletic performance. However, cold therapy is fast becoming more popular and widespread, with lifestyle entrepreneurs and show biz celebrities raving about the benefits of ice bathing on both body and mind. If you happen to be wondering what Lady Gaga and Tim Ferriss have in common, the answer is ice bathing.
Naturally, more and more people have become interested in exploring the possibilities – and not least, harnessing the benefits -of cold water immersion for themselves. And when you start becoming aware of the truly expansive range of health benefits you can expect to experience as a result of cold water therapy, it is no mystery why.
Keep reading to learn more about the many different benefits of ice bathing and to find the questions you might have about cold water immersion answered.
The effects: What do ice baths actually do?
There are many potential benefits of ice baths – some of them easily measured, others accumulative and slow to set in, and still others that are disputed.
So far, the studies that have been carried out into the effectiveness of cold therapy are both few and limited in scope – a lot of what is known is anecdotal and comes from professional athletes and their trainers, as well as from physical therapists and health and fitness enthusiasts ranging from Wim Hof to Lady Gaga.
One of the things that makes the effects of ice baths difficult to measure exactly is that many of them are accumulative and only become clear when ice bathing is practiced consistently over a longer period of time. While you can put an ice pack on a sprained ankle and immediately feel the soothing effects (and observe that the swelling starts going down right away), using ice baths for weight loss, to improve sports performance, or to prevent cardiovascular disease is necessarily much harder to accurately gauge and measure.
Still, health nerds and athletes swear by ice baths, and there is no doubt that taking ice baths on a regular basis is guaranteed to produce some kind of positive effect, particularly if your goal is to improve your overall health.
Here is a full but brief summary of the known benefits of taking ice baths.
Constrict blood vessels and blood flow
When you plunge your entire body into ice cold water, the sudden drop in temperature makes your blood vessels constrict, which slows down your overall blood flow and blood pressure.
If you struggle with high blood pressure, cold therapy may prove very beneficial in helping you lower and regulate it. When the cold temperatures constrict your vessels, blood is also being kept from rushing to injured areas or wounds, which can prevent swelling and result in faster recovery.
Lower core body temperature
When you immerse yourself in an ice cold tub, you lower your core body temperature drastically.
Lowering your core temperature puts your body into survival mode. All of the body’s energy goes to the core of your body and concentrates on keeping your vital organs functioning. Lowering your core temperature too much or for too long can lead to hypothermia, which is why it’s so important to keep an eye on the time and temperature of your ice bath.
Flush metabolic waste post workout
The ice bath process helps flush out metabolic waste after an intense workout.
Metabolic waste is the material left over from the metabolic process that cannot be used by the body. Instead, it must be excreted, or flushed out – and an ice bath can help you shed these waste products much faster.
When your core body temperature is lowered, your body starts burning fat to keep the vital organs and bodily functions warm and working.
In other words, if you have been trying – and perhaps struggling – to shift that stubborn extra weight, including ice baths in your weight loss regimen, and as part of a healthier lifestyle overall, can really have an impact. Particularly if you are wiling to make ice bath therapy an ongoing priority.
Delay inflammatory response
Cold therapy is often used as a way of delaying muscle soreness and active recovery in the wake of an intense training session, or even muscle damage has been sustained during an intense workout.
Many practicing physical therapists recommend letting the body enter active recovery on its own, and only applying ice packs or taking an ice bath an hour or two after working out. This is because the body heals naturally when left to its own devices – slowing down the inflammatory response can also slow down active recovery.
Condition the central nervous system
Ice cold temperatures activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating all of the body’s vital but unconscious functions such as breathing, digestion and heartbeat.
Conditioning your nervous system keeps it alive, awake and prepared to tackle any incoming threat, including viruses, allergies and ageing.
Increase white blood cells
The freezing temperatures of ice baths stimulate the body’s production of white blood cells. These blood cells are part of the body’s immune system and they play a vital role in fighting off infections and diseases.
Soothe sore muscles and joints
Extreme cold soothes sore muscles and joints, and not only when you have just put your body through a hard workout. Ice baths can help you recover faster after intense exercise, but cold therapy is also very useful when it comes to alleviating everyday muscle and joint aches and pains. So whether you are suffering from arthritis, have sprained your wrist or been on your feet all day, ice baths may be the answer.
Counteract the effects of a hot and humid day
Ice bath therapy can help you combat hot and humid weather conditions – something that is particularly useful if you are an athlete due to participate in an athletic event under hot and humid weather conditions.
Taking an ice bath prior to a cross country race or intense resistance training can give you a significant edge. Athletic trainers often make their athletes take ice baths in preparation for delivering their best performance on the track, on the field or in the ring.
Promote mental clarity and relaxation
From a mental standpoint, ice bath therapy stimulates both clarity and relaxation. An ice bath awakens your senses, and lowering yourself into an ice tub can feel incredibly refreshing and replenishing for both body and soul.
Ice baths may even promote better sleep, by helping you re-anchor yourself within your body and de-stressing your tense muscles before bedtime.
Cold water immersion: What to keep in mind
Now that we have gone over the primary benefits of ice bath therapy, you might be roaring to take the plunge and start experiencing them for yourself. However, before you do, there are a few things you should be aware of when ice bathing.
Put safety first
When you are dealing with extreme temperatures that your body is far from used to, you have to proceed with caution and follow all relevant safety guidelines. If you have any notable health conditions you think might put you at risk from exposure to cold, you should also consult your family physician before diving in head first.
When ice bathing, stay within a temperature range of approximately 10–15° Celsius or 50–59° Fahrenheit. You also shouldn’t stay in the freezing water for longer than 15-20 minutes at the very most.
If you are new to ice bathing, start by building up your cold tolerance. This can be down with cold showers, ice cold foot baths, or by applying contract therapy where you quickly shift between hot and cold water.
Ice bath therapy is all about the long game
The most important effects of ice bathing tend to develop and unfold themselves slowly but surely.
This poses a challenge to anyone with an impatient disposition, but don’t quit before the rewards start rolling in in the form of a stronger immune system, and the ability to both recover faster and perform better.
Can ice baths become a key part of your health regimen? If you’ve read this article through to this point, you know that the potential benefits you stand to gain are both varied and inspiring.
Ice baths are available to anyone, not only to professional athletes and celebrities. We should all want to improve our health and maximise the conditions of our bodies, and when it comes to unlocking more of our physical potential, ice baths work.
Whether you start simple and easy with cold showers or ice cold foot baths while building up your tolerance and gaining experience, or take the plunge by investing in an industrial-grade cold plunge, ice cold water can work miracles for your health.
Why not break the ice and take an ice bath today?