Did you know that ice baths actually have an ancient lineage? That’s right! Monks have been cold plunging for thousands of years. This is because the benefits of ice baths are hard to ignore. Cold plunging, AKA cold water immersion, cold therapy, cryotherapy, or ice bathing is amazing for your mental and physical health. If you are wondering, “What does an ice bath do?” you are not alone. Clearly, this practice is not for the faint of heart. Monks and cold plunging enthusiasts alike agree that ice baths induce positive stress, which requires a total Zen mindset to navigate. Beyond that, strained and inflamed muscles will experience immediate relief.
Wait, you mean to tell me you would like me to fill my bathtub full of cold water and ice and jump on in? Voluntarily??
Well, hey, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Perhaps one of the most accessible ways to polar plunge in an ice bath is in the comfort of your own tub. Filling the tub with cold water (and adding some ice for an extra kick) is certainly one way of reaching cryo-nirvana. Another way is to take a dip in the ocean or a nearby lake in the winter. Obviously, be sure to take appropriate precautions. Your body will likely go numb after a few seconds, so you don’t want to be too deep that you can’t make your way out of the water safely.
If you want to try cold plunging, but you aren’t ready to commit to such an extreme version, you can test the waters (see what we did there?) by turning your shower to the coldest possible temperature when you are done bathing. Let the cold water run over your entire body for as long as you can possibly stand it. The ancient monks practiced cold plunging in a similar way, by standing under waterfalls for extended periods of time.
“What is the point? What does an ice bath do for me?”
Read on for three ice bath benefits.
1. Stress Relief
We are living in some stressful times, folks! With a historical event occurring literally every 6 days, this past year has been one for the books! Collectively, this has done quite a number on our anxiety and stress levels. Our adrenal glands are working overtime as we constantly react to the world around us. But, we have got some great news for you! One of the many benefits of ice baths is that they provide substantial stress relief.
When you submerge yourself in an ice bath, you activate your sympathetic nervous system. While the cold temperature may shock you, it will also send blood to your brain and your core, which helps to flush out the neurotoxins that cause anxiety and depression.
Cryotherapy also helps stimulate a more awakened state (literally). The initial shock brings immediate attention and awareness to sensations in your body, which demands your total presence. This is one of the goals of meditation. Consider ice plunging to be somewhat of a shortcut. From that moment of total awareness, your mentality will actually shift to a focus on endurance.
This means, your goal (in your mind’s eye) shifts from, “Can I do it? Can I submerge into that icy tub??” to “I did it! Now how long can I stand it?”
This internal conversation takes awareness, mindfulness, and presence. These are all of the same thought processes involved with meditation. Thus, the outcome is very much the same. A regular cold plunging routine will provide you with stress relief and a better mindset.
2. Improved Circulation
Ice baths are a potent way to improve your circulation. Submerging your body in ice-cold water will increase your heart rate and your blood pressure, which, temporarily, is a very good thing.
The sudden drop in temperature is going to constrict your outer blood vessels, which forces your blood to flow away from the surface of your body. Instead, the blood will flow deeper toward your body’s core, which will increase circulation to all of your major organs. When you stabilize your temperature back to normal, the blood will flow again to your body’s surface. This manipulation of your overall circulation is extremely beneficial for your health.
3. Improved Immune Function
Another ice bath benefit is improved immune function. Stress has been deemed, “the silent killer.” Collectively, we have experienced a whole lot of it this past year. Thankfully, cold plunging has the amazing ability to lower your cortisol levels. Cortisol is your “fight or flight” hormone, and it is caused and released by stress.
Excess levels of cortisol in your body can cause a whole myriad of issues including, but not limited to, rapid weight gain, muscle deterioration, diabetes, and even skin that bruises easily. No thanks! Cortisol also weakens your immune system. With the pandemic still in full effect and with it being cold and flu season, it is important to keep your body’s first line of defense in optimal condition. Cryotherapy can help you to keep cortisol, that nasty hormone, in check!
Another benefit of ice bathing is increased metabolism. (Hello, weight loss!) Who doesn’t love a simple hack for a smaller waistline, especially after the many shelter in place orders we have all endured?! Ice baths also increase your dopamine levels, AKA the reward hormone. When your dopamine levels are low, you will experience fatigue, moodiness, lack of focus, and low libido. This may lead to procrastination, feelings of hopelessness, and mood swings. Thankfully you can turn all of that around within minutes, simply by taking an ice bath. Plunging into cold water will flood your brain with dopamine, leaving you in a much better mood.