Cold Water For the Mind and Body
We can all agree there are few moments more relaxing than the first seconds you get into a nice hot shower in the morning or after a long day. Hot water relaxes our muscles, opens up our sinuses, and flushes toxins from our system. But what about the benefits of a cold shower? Or to take it a step further, the benefits of a full-body cold plunge?
Exposing our bodies to cold water can have a variety of physiological effects depending on how long you stay in the water and how your body responds to the cold. Cryotherapy, a branch of hydrotherapy that specializes in using cold water to treat certain conditions, has been around for centuries. Hydrotherapy was written about as early as the 4th century BC, for its benefits to both the mind and body. Today, we have specialized systems that harness the power of water to optimize your well-being. It works in a few different ways.
Shiver Your Way to Optimal Well-Being
In 2014, a study came out that revolutionized the way we saw the cold. Scientists showed that by exposing our bodies to cold temperatures, more specifically by shivering due to the cold, we could receive similar benefits to those that we experience from moderate exercise in a fraction of the time.
This is because, during cold exposure, levels of the hormone irisin (produced by muscle) and FGF21 (produced by brown fat) rise. In fact, just 10-15 minutes of shivering resulted in equivalent rises in irisin as an hour of moderate exercise.
While it was already known that exposure to cold temperatures stimulated brown adipose tissue (brown fat), a fat that breaks down glucose and fat molecules, this study allowed us to understand the mechanisms which trigger its activation and better use it to aid in weight loss and potential treatments for overall well-being.
The Benefits of Cold Plunging
Spending time in cold temperatures does more than just aid in brown fat activation. Immersing your body in cold water triggers reactions in multiple areas of the body including your immune system, central nervous system, and cardiovascular system. Cold plunges support optimal well-being in 3 main ways:
- Reducing inflammation and pain. Cold plunges ease muscle pain and inflammation through a process called vasoconstriction. When your body is exposed to cold temperatures, blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow to the surface of your skin. This is why many professional athletes take ice baths after a rigorous workout. When blood flow is restricted, the rate at which muscles become reoxygenated increases, which can result in less soreness and quicker recovery time between workouts.
- Boosting your immune system. By activating your body’s thermogenic response, the process of heat production, repeated exposure to cold stimuli can increase your metabolic rate and boost your immune system. When your immune system is ramped up, it produces more white blood cells which help to fight off infections and disease so you can recover faster and potentially get sick less often.
- Improving mental well-being. We highlighted some of the many physical benefits of integrating cold plunges into your wellness routine, but there are several positive factors associated with your mental well-being as well. Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system, increasing the level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline (NA) in the brain. These chemicals play an essential role in the regulation of attention, cognitive function, and stress.
If you are considering adding cold water therapy to your wellness plan, make sure to start slow, limit your exposure to just a few minutes, and seek guidance from professionals.
Contact us to learn more about the benefits of cold plunge today!