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Benefits of Cold Exposure Therapy: Are They Worth it?

benefits of cold exposure, cold water therapy are they worth it?

As a health-conscious individual, you are likely willing to go out of your comfort zone to try out new trends and products that have promising anti-aging benefits. However, when it comes to cold water therapy, you might stop and wonder: Are the health benefits of exposing my body to frigid temperatures worth it?

Whether plunging into the frigid ocean or making an ice bath at home, cold exposure therapy has both physical and psychological benefits. In this article, we go into the health benefits of cold water therapy so that you can decide if it is worth the try.

What is Cold Exposure Therapy?

Cold exposure therapy is a practice which involves immersing yourself in cold temperatures. For optimal results, temperatures should be between 45 to 58 degrees fahrenheit or 7 to 14 degrees celsius. This form of therapy provides an array of physical and mental health benefits, from providing immune support to boosting mood.

Despite its recent popularity, cold exposure therapy dates back centuries. Similar practices were used in Ancient Greece to treat wounds, injuries, skin conditions, and illnesses. In the Roman Empire, gladiators used cold plunging to alleviate sore muscles post-battle.

Today, there are plenty of methods to benefit from cold water exposure, including:

  • Ice baths: You can fill your bathtub or a trash can with cold water and ice to reap the benefits of cold exposure therapy. This is a popular method among athletes who are looking to speed up their muscle recovery. If you use this method, just make sure to use a new and unused trash can for hygiene purposes.
  • Body of water: Since most bodies of water are naturally cold, dunking yourself in a lake, river, or ocean is a great, natural way to benefit from cold water therapy. No set up is required; all you have to do is take a refreshing dip.
  • Ice packs: If a specific body part is bugging you, you can use localized cold exposure therapy by applying ice packs to that area. It should help alleviate any pain or soreness.
  • Walking: Do you live in a cold climate? Taking a brief walk outside in cold temperatures can have similar effects of cold water exposure. Your neighbors might give you some weird looks, but the less you bundle up on your walk, the more benefit you will get.

What are the Health Benefits of Cold Exposure Therapy?

Cold water therapy benefits have been known for centuries, and its ability to bring faster recovery from injuries, boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve mental health are just a few of the reasons why this therapy has become increasingly popular. Here are five amazing advantages that you can expect from regular cold water therapy sessions.

1. It Improves Immune Function.

Wondering if there are cold exposure immune system benefits? Some evidence suggests that cold water exposure can give the immune system a kickstart, which might enhance its ability to fight disease. One study, for example, revealed that people could naturally stimulate their immune function through using cold water therapy. [1]

However, these cold water therapy techniques were used in combination with deep breathing and meditation exercises, so it is hard to isolate the individual effect that cold water exposure had.

2. Shortens Muscle Recovery Time.

It’s widely believed that cold water exposure after exercise can reduce muscle pain and shorten muscle recovery time. Cold exposure causes the blood vessels to constrict, which reduces blood flow to the “injured” muscles post-exercise. Even though it seems counterintuitive, this can help reduce swelling and speed up the healing process. For example, one study showed that athletes who did cold water therapy had less muscle pain than athletes who didn’t.[2]

3. Promotes Weight Loss.

Cold water exposure might promote weight loss. Research suggests that consistent cold water exposure helps the body convert white adipose tissue (WAT) into brown adipose tissue (BAT) . In other words, it transforms fat-storing tissue into fat-burning tissue so that the body can burn more fat. This process can result in additional weight loss.  [3]

4. Offers a Quick Energy Boost.

This perk might be obvious, for exposing the skin to ice cold water is enough to wake anyone up. This is because cold exposure therapy stimulates your adrenaline production, making you feel more awake and focused.

5. Can Improve Mental Health.

Cold water therapy might alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Studies suggest that exposure to cold water lowers one’s heart rate, which subsequently reduces stress levels. Another study showed that ice baths and showers might help treat depression symptoms. [4]

Cold Water Therapy Dangers and Safety

Cold water treatments offer many health-related benefits, but it’s important to be aware of their associated dangers. According to studies cold water therapy dangers include increasing the risk of hypothermia, altered heart rhythm and cold shock—especially when done without proper preparation and guidance.

Cold shock can cause a cold-induced heart attack and any cold water plunge should be done slowly to avoid this risk. Hypothermia is when the body temperature drops below 95°F (35°C), and cold water therapy increases your chances of developing it. Lastly, cold water exposure can also lead to frostbite — a cold injury where tissue freezes due to extremely cold temperatures.[6]

For these reasons, it’s important to take precautions when performing cold water therapy and consult with your doctor before you start. The key is moderation and how quickly you jump into cold water. Take your time and make sure that you are comfortable at all stages of the process. Also, cold water therapy is not for everyone — those with health conditions or sensory disorders should avoid cold exposure altogether.

The cold water therapy dangers associated with cold exposure can be serious, but the potential benefits might outweigh the risks in some cases. Cold exposure can offer athletic performance improvements, mental and physical health benefits, an energy boost, and more. However, it’s important to take the necessary precautions when performing cold therapy and consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. After all, cold water therapy dangers should never be taken lightly!

Things You Should Know About Cold Water Therapy

Let’s take a look at the most popular questions and answers about cold water therapy.

  • Is cold exposure therapy good for you?

Yes! Research suggests that cold exposure therapy can improve immune function, alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms, increase energy levels, shorten muscle recovery, and promote weight loss.

  • How do I set up at home cold therapy?

You can get the benefits of cold exposure therapy from the comfort of your own home by setting up an at-home ice bath, taking a cold shower, or applying ice packs.

  • When should I not do cold exposure therapy?

Cold plunges are not for everyone. In some cases, it can do more harm than good. It is best to skip the cold therapy trend if you have a sensory disorder, health condition, stiff joints, poor circulation, or are expecting.

  • Why is cold water therapy so popular?

Public figures like Joe Rogan and Wim Hof have popularized cold water therapy. Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete and motivational speaker who created the Wim Hof method. This practice has been popularized as a supplementary treatment for anxiety and depression. [5]

Final Thoughts: Is Cold Exposure Right for You?

While the cold therapy benefits have been widely documented, the decision to participate in such a practice is personal and depends on your individual goals. Whether cold exposure therapy is right for you depends on your health and wellness goals. If you are looking for natural ways to boost your mood and immune system or enhance your fitness training, cold water exposure might help you achieve your goals. It is best to use cold water therapy in combination with a healthy diet and a regular exercise and stretching routine.

More longevity hacks to improve your health can be found here.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4034215/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4706272/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21521287/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S030698770700566X?via%3Dihub
  5. https://www.wimhofmethod.com/cold-therapy

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