Cold plunging, also known as cold water therapy, falls under the umbrella of Hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is the use of water to treat a number of symptoms in the body. If you’ve ever taken a bubble bath to relax or put ice on a swollen ankle, you’ve experimented with hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is noninvasive and can treat a variety of symptoms without medication.
Cold plunging is immersing your body in a tub or pool of 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit water to treat health conditions or stimulate health benefits. There is a “tolerance curve” to cold plunging, which means you should start slowly and work up gradually to spend longer durations in the water.
When you take a cold plunge, your body undergoes several changes that can have both short-term and long-term effects. How soon you feel some of the positive effects of cold plunging depends on the frequency of your plunges. Walk through the “Timeline of a Cold Plunge” to find out exactly what is going on in your body during a cold plunge.
Timeline of a Cold Plunge
You’ve decided to take a cold plunge. This is what you can expect, and what is happening to your body, from the moment you step into the water until the moment you step out.
- As you enter the water: When you first enter the cold water, your body’s initial reaction is to gasp and take a deep breath. This is known as the cold shock response and is an automatic reaction to a sudden drop in temperature. Your heart rate and blood pressure may increase as your body tries to cope with the loss of heat.
- While you are in the water: Once you’re in the water, your body will begin to acclimate to the cold. Your blood vessels will constrict to help maintain heat, which can cause your skin to turn red and make you feel a tingling sensation. Your body will also begin to release endorphins, which can help reduce feelings of stress and pain.
- When you get out of the water: As you exit the water, your body will begin to warm up and your blood vessels will dilate, increasing blood flow to your extremities. Your heart rate and blood pressure will gradually return to normal levels as your body adjusts to the warmer temperature. You may also experience a feeling of euphoria as your body releases more endorphins.
It’s important to remember that the length of time you spend in the cold water can have a significant impact on how your body responds. Shorter plunges of around 30 seconds to one minute are generally easy to do and may provide some benefits like decreased inflammation. Longer plunges of several minutes do put more stress on the body, but may also have more benefits like improved mental health and a boosted immune system.
Some other potential health benefits from taking a cold plunge may be:
- Enhanced recovery from exercise: a cold water plunge may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (the soreness you experience the day after an intense workout)
- Reduction in pain: cold water forces your blood vessels to constrict, which limits blood flow to the painful areas. Without blood flow, the pain is lessened as well as the swelling
- Improved circulation: the constriction of blood vessels in cold water followed by the dilation of blood vessels when you get out of the water improves circulation in the body
- Boost in mood: remember those endorphins? Those are “feel good” hormones created naturally in the body. Production is increased when you take a cold plunge
The Bottom Line
Overall, a cold plunge can have a variety of physiological effects on the body depending on how long you stay in the water and how your body responds to the cold. While the initial shock of the cold water can be intense, with proper care and attention to your body’s response, a cold plunge can be a safe and effective way to improve your overall health and wellness.
Interested in learning more about cold plunges? Contact 10X Health today to have all of your questions answered.