Are Ice Baths Part Of Your Wellness Routine?
Most of you are familiar with the oh-so-popular TikTok app which means you’ve probably seen the #coldplunge trend happening. Although,
Most of you are familiar with the oh-so-popular TikTok app which means you’ve probably seen the #coldplunge trend happening. Although, if you aren’t a user, here’s how it goes. People have been filming themselves [every morning] as they step into a tub over ice-cold water (with ice literally in it) as a positive wellness habit (not the filming themselves part, the ice baths part).
Before you say, “What?! that’s ridiculous, why would someone do such a thing?” in the accent of a middle-aged Italian man from Staten Island, get to know the details of its benefits.
Ice Baths: Some Things To Know
Ice baths, formally known as cold water immersion (CWI) have been referred to as the process of submerging yourself in water that is “colder than normal” for about 5 minutes, according to the sports medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, Dominic King, DO.
And, although this trend might seem new, it most definitely is not. In fact, ice baths have been a common practice for decades among athletes. Dr. King explains, “The original thought was that, when you get into a cold pool or a really cold shower after exercise, you can ease sore muscles pretty quickly and reduce your core body temperature. It can help with post-exercise recovery.”
Dr. King continues to explain that you have to work your body into this practice. It’s best to start slow for example, while you’re in the shower, turn the water cold for about 3 minutes and see how your body responds. He says, “This gives you an opportunity to see if you like the results” before trying something that’s more intense.
Although this may seem like a low-risk “trend” to try out, certain individuals should consult their doctor before giving it a go. If you live with a heart condition it is important that you check with your doctor. Dr. King says, “It’s such a quick shock, you could trigger a cardiac event.”
Let’s Get To the Good Stuff
The reason we’re all here… the benefits!
What exactly do ice baths do for the body?
The benefits CWI has on muscle recovery are well documented. One review of 17 small studies, came to the conclusion that ice baths can reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness following exercise as opposed to other recovery strategies such as resting, published y the Cochrane Library in 2012.
Another small study published in 2014 by the American Journal of Physiology concluded that ice baths “enhanced recovery of submaximal muscle function.” They found that those who fought through the discomfort of chilling water performed better in physical tests (after the immersion) than those who didn’t. And, even though they also decided that it mostly benefited those who train twice a day, that hasn’t minimized interest for the average person.
According to the Mindbody Wellness Index, “more than one-third of general consumers have tried or are interested in trying ice baths specifically.” In fact, “over a quarter (26%) of Americans practice biohacking (which includes ice baths) for peak physical performance.
An ice bath’s effect on mental health is another curiosity that circles the trend.
Justin Pruder, Ph.D., explained that there is limited research that links CWI with potentially decreasing depression and improving overall mood. “Science takes a long time for us to get these answers,” he states.
However, he told us what do know so far.
- exposure to cold water can release the two chemicals knowns for boosting your mood: endorphins and dopamine levels. “It should improve mood, but we don’t have enough information to really recommend it as an anxiety or depression coping skill or strategy,” Dr. Puder explains.
- Others have stated that they can sleep better after doing something like an ice bath. Dr. King explains that this is due to your body’s fight-or-flight response. “When you shock the body that quickly [by exposing it to cold water], you activate what we call the sympathetic nervous system.” He continues, “By activating [the sympathetic nervous system] really quickly, then taking away the thing it was reacting to [cold water], your body might have an ability to get into that rest-and-digest mode quicker.”
So before taking “the plunge” into this trend, consult with your doctor if necessary, and as with any viral health challenges, keep safety in mind before you start experimenting.