By: Sydney Levine
We’ve all probably heard of the Polar Plunge – an event held every year during the peak of winter where hundreds of participants run into the freezing cold ocean as a way to raise money. Sounds insane right, or at the very least, sounds extremely uncomfortable. While this event only happens once a year, incorporating this type of cold immersion can be beneficial to your overall health everyday. Today, “cold therapy” is a term used to describe how submerging yourself in cold water can work wonders on healing our bodies and improving our well-being.
Cold therapy is the practice of using cold temperatures to help stimulate health benefits. Cold exposure therapy has the power to activate our body’s natural healing powers, and the best news is that anyone can do it. Cold therapy practices include ice baths, daily cold showers, outdoor swims, and cold-water immersion therapy (Cold Water Therapy, 2020). It is based on the idea that subjecting your body to the small amount of stress that the cold puts on it can actually strengthen your body over time (Cold Therapy or Cryotherapy, n.d.)
If you were once or still are an athlete, you might be familiar with ice baths, taking cold showers, and ice massaging as a way to help speed up the recovery from injuries and prevent muscle soreness. If being an athlete does not apply to you, there are still several benefits to cold exposure that can support your overall wellness. We put our bodies through a lot, and while sitting in cold water or applying ice to the body may be temporarily uncomfortable, the benefits may be worth it. The advantages of cold therapy include improved circulation, better sleep at night, ability to spike energy levels, and reduced inflammation and pain (Cold Water Therapy, 2020). Additionally, if this cold exposure therapy is practiced enough, it can lead to benefits in your immune system.
Reduce muscle inflammation
Cold therapy has been proven to help thwart muscle soreness and facilitate in the repairing of mini muscles tears that cause inflammation of the tissue (Cold Water Therapy, 2020). The idea that cold water therapy can prevent muscle soreness/inflammation is based on the notion that exposure to cold water increases the rate at which oxygen is delivered to your muscles. When you take an ice bath or cold shower, the initial immersion causes your blood vessels to contract, then once you emerge from the cold water your blood vessels widen (Cold Therapy or Cryotherapy, n.d.). This process of narrowing and widening of the blood vessels is what helps fend off muscle soreness and inflammation in the body.
Circulation relates to the blood flow within your body. Circulation provides blood supply to tissues while carrying oxygen and nutrients with it. Poor blood flow can cause issues related to fatigue, high blood pressure, muscle cramping, and headaches (Cold Water Therapy, 2020). Cold therapy has the power to improve your body’s circulation. Improved circulation can lead to greater heart health and mental performance and even boost your metabolism.
Improved immune system
Cold exposure has the potential to improve your immune system overtime. One study found that after cold therapy, increased levels of white blood cells and NK (natural killer) cells were present in the body (Brenner et al., 1999).
Boosts mood and alertness
When you think of cold therapy, it can be as simple as incorporating a cold shower into your daily routine. Cold showers have been shown to spike your alertness; this is due to a cold showers’ ability to increase your heart rate and blood pressure (Mooventhan & Nivethitha, 2014). At the same time, taking a five or ten minute – or even for just two minutes when you’re first getting acquainted – cold shower can boost your mood. By taking a cold shower, you activate your sympathetic nervous system, increasing the availability of endorphins in the body (Shevchuk, 2008), thus boosting your mood.
Cold exposure therapy can be a useful addition to your everyday wellness routine. With the simple change in incorporating a cold shower, you could possibly see results related to better circulation, reduced muscle soreness, an improved immune system, and even a boost in your mood.
Brenner, I. K. M., Castellani, J. W., Gabaree, C., Young, A. J., Zamecnik, J., Shephard, R. J., & Shek, P. N. (1999). Immune changes in humans during cold exposure: Effects of prior heating and exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 87(2), 699–710. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1922.214.171.1249
Cold therapy or cryotherapy: Claims and supporting research. (n.d.). Roman HealthGuide. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from https://www.getroman.com/health-guide/cold-therapy-or-cryotherapy-claims-and-supporting-research/
Cold water therapy: Benefits of cold showers, baths, immersion therapy. (2020, July 8). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-water-therapy
Mooventhan, A., & Nivethitha, L. (2014). Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 6(5), 199. https://doi.org/10.4103/1947-2714.132935
Shevchuk, N.A., 2008. Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical Hypotheses 70, 995–1001.. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2007.04.052