How Cold Water Therapy Can Help Your Mental and Physical Health
If you are a fan of podcasts or have been on social media recently, you have likely come across someone proclaiming the many benefits of sitting in an ice bath, having a cold shower, or swimming in a frozen lake. Although these actions seem considerably uncomfortable, they have been growing in popularity for good reason: exposing yourself to cold water therapy has been shown to improve multiple aspects of your mental and physical performance, mood, and energy.
How Does Cold Water Therapy Work and What are the Benefits?
At first thought, the discomfort of freezing cold temperatures may seem as though it would harm your body and use up all your energy. However, evidence has shown that your body actually undergoes mechanisms when experiencing cold temperatures that are greatly beneficial and have lasting effects.
In cold temperatures, your brain releases important chemicals
During deliberate cold exposure, your brain releases a surge of adrenaline and noradrenaline as a result of the discomfort. This is why many people may feel a sense of urgency to leave the cold during the process. However, these chemicals make us more alert and energized, and the heightened levels are seen to last for the remainder of the day; allowing us to use that alertness and energy towards other tasks.
Also, the crucial chemical for a good mood – dopamine – is released at very high levels during cold water therapy. Even better, cold water therapy has been shown to produce one of the highest levels of dopamine and stagnate those levels for a significantly long time. This means there is no “dopamine crash” after the cold water exposure. This is why cold water exposure is being suggested to those with depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
Cold exposure increases metabolism as a result of the body having to work hard and burn calories to increase core body temperature. This occurs due to the conversion of white fat to brown fat when the body is trying to produce heat.
Relieving pain and reducing inflammation
Cold temperatures and the pressure from the water cause your blood vessels to narrow, which directs blood to your organs. When you emerge from the cold water, your blood vessels expand and pump the nutrient-rich blood back to your tissues, helping to remove waste and increase overall circulation. The pumping of blood back to our tissues is what is suggested to help relieve pain and inflammation and promote healing.
Despite these significant benefits, you must ensure that you are practicing cold exposure safely. The key to safe exposure is to start slowly. This means beginning at a warmer temperature and for shorter periods of time. Immediately jumping into water that is too cold for too long can cause hypothermia, heart attack, and frostbite. Over time, as your body and brain adjust to the duration and temperature, you will be able to slowly go colder and longer and hopefully indulge in the benefits that cold water therapy has to offer!
Bedosky, L. (2022, December 12). What Is Cold Water Therapy? A Detailed Scientific Guide. EverydayHealth. https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/cold-water-therapy/guide/
Fields, L. (2022, July 20). Taking the Plunge: Is Cold Exposure Worthwhile? Cedars-Sinai Blog. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/cold-exposure-therapy.html
Huberman, A. (2022, May 01). The Science & Use of Cold Exposure for Health & Performance. Huberman Lab. https://hubermanlab.com/the-science-and-use-of-cold-exposure-for-health-and-performance/
Shields, A. (n.d.). The Benefits of Cold Exposure. Dr Alexis Shields. https://dralexisshields.com/cold-exposure#:~:text=Well%2C%20it%20turns%20out%20that,chronic%20disease%2C%20etc.).