If you have been anywhere on social media these days you’ve seen all sorts of folks taking a routine dip into invigorating icy waters in all sorts of different kinds of cold plunges. But do the benefits go beyond the initial shiver?
Let’s explore how regular cold exposure can do wonders for your physical and mental well-being.
The Cold and Your Metabolism:
When your body encounters cold, it kicks into high gear in an effort to maintain normal internal body temperature. This process, called thermogenesis, revs up your metabolism, burning extra calories to generate heat. In simpler terms, the shock of plunging will give your metabolism a turbo boost.
Cold Exposure and Immunity:
Being immersed in cold water can be your secret weapon against frequent sick days. It prompts your body to produce more white blood cells, strengthening your immune system’s defense against invaders. It also causes the lymphatic system to contract, forcing fluid through your lymph nodes. This process detoxifies the body and strengthens the immune system. One study has even found that it can substantially lower your risk of upper respiratory infections (1).
The Cold and Your Brain:
Cold exposure isn’t just a physical challenge; it’s a mental game-changer too. Researchers have known for a long time that plunging connects to our daily energy. Particularly, there is a ton of evidence that hormone imbalance can contribute to depression. The cold triggers release of endorphins, those feel-good neurotransmitters, leading to an instant mood lift. This means that a cold plunge might help reduce depression and boost overall mood.
Cold Exposure and Muscle Recovery:
For CrossFitters and fitness enthusiasts, cold plunges can be a secret weapon for muscle recovery. Well, it’s probably not that great of a secret because athletes have been using cold water immersion therapy to enhance recovery and performance for decades, maybe even centuries (2). First, cold plunges can help regulate low-level systemic inflammation and muscle soreness developed during training. Additionally, it can reduce your core temperature post-exercise thus signaling the body to kick start the naturally occurring recovery process. Also, it will help you build tolerance to cold temperatures for those events and games where you may have to compete in chilly conditions.
Go Team Cold Plunge!
Ok cool, so you’re on the team now…but HOW should you go about incorporating it into your life? Lucky for you, I got some quick tips to help you out.
– Start Slow: Gradually introduce your body to cold exposure. No need to plunge for hours on day one. Try hitting 30 seconds until that gets comfortable and slowly add time as you go.
– Focus on Breath: Controlled breathing will help navigate the initial shock. Inhale courage, exhale stress.
– Listen to Your Body: If you’re shivering uncontrollably or feeling uncomfortable, it’s okay to ease up. Consistency is key, not extreme discomfort.
– Be Intentional: Find the best way for YOU to incorporate cold exposure into your routine. Maybe it’s a post-workout cold plunge or you can end your shower with a blast of cold water. It’s not just about the initial shock – it’s the metabolic afterburn that counts.
– No Fear: You really don’t need to fear the cold; rather embrace it strategically. Consider starting with just a few times a week, gradually increasing your exposure time. It’s like a superhero training montage for your metabolism, immune system, and your brain.
Cold plunging isn’t about punishing your body; it’s a journey of adaptation and empowerment. You’re not just braving the cold – you’re unlocking a multitude of benefits for both your body and mind (3).
Ready to take the plunge?
(1) Knechtle B, Waśkiewicz Z, Sousa CV, Hill L, Nikolaidis PT. Cold Water Swimming-Benefits and Risks: A Narrative Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Dec 2;17(23):8984. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17238984. PMID: 33276648; PMCID: PMC7730683.
(2) Xiao F, Kabachkova AV, Jiao L, Zhao H, Kapilevich LV. Effects of cold water immersion after exercise on fatigue recovery and exercise performance–meta analysis. Front Physiol. 2023 Jan 20;14:1006512. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2023.1006512. PMID: 36744038; PMCID: PMC9896520.
(3) OpenAccessGovernment.org – What are the Health Benefits of Cold Water Therapy?