Most of us don’t particularly look forward to colder weather, but despite our aversion to icy temperatures, cold plunges have become increasingly popular.
Although cold plunges technically originated in ancient Roman and Greek times, you’re more likely to see an athlete or influencer posting about them on social media these days. As they become more and more popular online, many people have begun to ask whether exposing themselves to freezing water is beneficial to their health or merely an overhyped trend.
Let’s look at some of the potential health benefits of taking a cold plunge to help you determine whether to include it in your wellness routine.
What Is a Cold Plunge?
A cold plunge involves immersing yourself in chilly water for a few minutes (whether that’s an ice barrel, cold water tank, or cold lake or river). People typically aim to spend about three to five minutes in water that’s around 59 °F or colder. Some people also like to build up their tolerance so they can take longer cold plunges.
Cold plunges are becoming increasingly common in gyms, spas, and wellness centers. Many people like to follow a cold plunge with a visit to the sauna to get a more drastic experience of going from a very cold to a very hot temperature.
Although cold plunging has been popular among athletes for some time (because of the supposed benefits for muscle recovery) more people are finding they like to incorporate the immersion practice into their routines.
If you don’t want to use a cold plunge tank at a gym or spa, they’re available to purchase for in-home use. They come in a variety of models that offer different features, including temperature regulation and UV sanitation.
What Are the Possible Benefits to Cold Plunges?
As mentioned above, athletes gravitate towards cold plunges because they support muscle recovery. Many fitness experts believe that exposing muscles to the cold after a workout or practice can help reduce soreness and inflammation in the body. The cold can also help drain lactic acid from your muscles.
Other people claim that cold plunging helps them manage their anxiety and depression. Although research on cold plunges and mental health is still in its infancy, many people have found that it works for their individual purposes.
The momentary stress of your body hitting the cold water may also help release endorphins. Stress can, after all, be beneficial for your body. For example, a workout can often have major long-term health benefits because it strengthens your body and releases endorphins. Some people even claim that cold water immersion helps them sleep better, improves their circulation, and makes their skin and hair healthier.
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So, What’s the Deal with Cold Water?
According to early evidence, it’s possible there are some benefits to cold water you aren’t able to get anywhere else.
Cold water is thought to put your circulatory system in overdrive. Many people find that the added cold water helps improve their circulation, since your body has to work harder to warm you up when you’re exposed to cold temperatures.
In one exciting study, researchers even pointed out that cold water exposure could strengthen your immune system. One trial in the Netherlands indicated that cold showers lead to a 29% decrease in people calling in sick to work.
Although cold plunges are both trendy and beneficial these days, it’s worth noting that cold water isn’t a “cure-all.” At best, you should use it as a supplement to your routine and healthy habits.
You should also make sure to check with your doctor before cold plunging, especially if you have health conditions that may be exacerbated by cold water immersion.
How to Incorporate Cold Plunges into your Routine
If these potential benefits sound interesting to you (and you can handle the freezing temps!) perhaps it’s time to consider adding cold plunging into your routine.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your cold plunging experience:
- Start slow: To maximize the physical benefits of cold plunging, you’ll likely have to build up tolerance. Try increasing the time you spend in the water by 30 seconds each time you plunge until you reach five to eight minutes (the optimal time for cold plunge benefits).
- Commit for several days: If you’re going to try to experience the benefits of cold plunging, try incorporating this practice into your routine for three to four weeks to give your body time to experience the benefits. You don’t have to do it every single day, but don’t quit after one or two plunges because you don’t feel any different.
- Plunge early: Sometimes doing a cold plunge close to bedtime can put too much stress on your system and make it more difficult for you to sleep. Taking a cold plunge in the morning can help wake you up and give you more energy throughout the day. If this isn’t possible, try to do a plunge after a workout.
- Try other types of cold therapy: If you don’t like the plunge or prefer not to invest in a cold plunge tank, you can try other types of cold therapy. Visiting a cryotherapy center or simply taking a cold shower can give you many of the same benefits.
- Do it with friends: Plunging with friends makes for a far more enjoyable experience. Friends don’t let friends plunge alone.
- Cold plunge can feel great after a workout: A plunge in an ice barrel or cold stream can reduce muscle ache, especially during the hot summer months.
- Talk to your healthcare provider: Be sure to talk to your doctor or health practitioner before you begin any new wellness routine. In cold plunging specifically, immersion impacts your heart rate, circulation, and blood pressure, which can result in cardiac stress.
The Bottom Line
Adding a cold plunge into your routine could help you reap various mental and physical benefits.
You can even reap these benefits from less intense cold plunges. Dip your toe in, as they say, and see if it’s something you’d like to continue. Everyone’s body is different, so you may be surprised by the mental and physical benefits you experience.
Looking for support to create healthier habits? An Arootah coach can support you in making positive changes by identifying your challenges and helping you address them through self-accountability.