Having an ice bath is not something that is only done in movies but actually is a form of therapy. The name is pretty simple and straight forward… cold water therapy. Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about this form of therapy such as its benefits and whether it is the best choice for you.
Immersing yourself in cold water has some distinct health benefits, as a growing number of health influencers, celebrities, athletes, and trainers will happily confirm.
But what’s the science behind cold water therapy? What exactly are the benefits? And what’s the best and safest way to immerse yourself in cold water?
In this article, we’ll help answer these questions and dig into the research that’s been done on cold water immersion.
What exactly is cold water therapy?
Cold water therapy is the practice of using water that’s around 59°F (15°C) to treat health conditions or stimulate health benefits. It’s also known as cold hydrotherapy.
The practice has been around for a couple of millennia. But recent adaptations include ice baths, brisk daily showers, outdoor swims, and cold water immersion therapy sessions.
What are the benefits?
Supporters of this technique believe that cold water therapy can improve your circulation, deepen your sleep, spike your energy levels, and reduce inflammation in your body.
While anecdotal evidence backs up those benefits, not much research has been done to support these claims.
Cold water therapy does, however, have some benefits that are proven by science. Let’s take a closer look at what these benefits are.
Less muscle soreness
Although researchers are debating the details, studies indicate that athletes who soak in cold water for short periods after exercise have less muscle soreness later on.
A small study conducted in 2011 found that cyclists who completed intense training sessions had decreased soreness after they were immersed in cold water for 10 minutes.
A 2016 study involving 20 participants showed the same thing. Athletes who soaked in a pool of cold water (12°C to 15°C) reported less muscle soreness than those who had no hydrotherapy after exercising.
According to medical experts, the reason cold water helps with pain is that it causes your blood vessels to constrict. This reduces blood flow to the area — for example, an injury you’re applying ice to — which helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
One note: If you’re using cold water to help with muscle recovery, you may want to combine it with strategies like stretching or active recovery.
Faster cooldown if you’re overheated
The research is clear: Cold water immersion can help lower your body temperature much faster than just resting in a cool environment can.
A 2015 meta-analysisTrusted Source of 19 studies concluded that contact with cold water (around 50°F or 10°C) cooled off overheated people twice as fast as recovery without hydrotherapy.
The key is to immerse as much of your skin as possible. This means dunking your whole body in cold water, not just running your wrists under a cold tap.
May ease symptoms of depression
Cold water is not a cure for any mental health condition. But certain case studies suggest that cold open water swimming has helped alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety in some people.
One such case study involves a woman who had experienced anxiety and depression since age 17. At 24 years old, she began a trial program of weekly open water swimming.
Over time, her symptoms decreased so significantly that she was able to stop taking medication to treat them. A year later, her doctors found that regular swimming still kept her depression symptoms at bay.
In another study, researchers found that a program of short, twice-daily cold showers decreased depressive symptoms. It’s important to note, however, that none of the participants in this study had been diagnosed with depression.