Wellbeing
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    Take The Cold Plunge: Exploring Cold Plunge and Ice Bath Benefits

    In the world of healthcare, new treatments and remedies are regularly arising. One treatment that has gained traction in recent times is a cold plunge. But what exactly is a cold plunge, and how does it differ from an ice bath? In this article we will look at these therapies, looking at their potential health benefits and exploring the methodology behind them. We'll explore the science behind embracing the cold, while also considering any associated risks to ensure you know all you need to know before taking the plunge.

    What is cold water plunging?

    Cold water plunging, also known as cold-water immersion, involves partially or entirely submerging yourself in cold water for a brief period of time (Jagim, 2024). Cold water plunging can be done in many different ways from simply sitting in a bath of cold water with ice cubes in it to taking a dip in a cold lake or the sea. Some people also spend a lot of money on specialised pieces of equipment to perform cold water immersion because of the benefits it can provide them.

    A man sat in an ice bath

    What is the difference between cold plunge and ice bath?

    Cold plunges and ice baths are both popular methods that are both use for alleviating inflammation and speeding up muscle recovery. However, they have several distinct differences that separate them as therapy options. A cold plunge typically involves sitting in a tank of icy water that typically ranges between 4-15°C. An ice bath, on the other hand, is more intense and involves sitting in a bath of water between 1-4°C, according to Zuda Yoga. Cold plunges and ice baths offer a range of benefits to participants, and it typically comes down to personal preference when choosing between the two. Some people may find cold plunges more manageable than ice baths, whereas some people may find that ice baths provide better results. 

    What are the health benefits of a cold plunge?

    Although cold plunging is a relatively new therapy option, there is plenty of research that outlines the potential benefits someone can experience by doing it (Gordon & Marko, 2024). Below are the top five benefits of cold plunging that you could experience.

    Post-workout recovery

    Research on cold-water immersion suggests its potential to aid post-workout recovery. Studies have indicated that it can mitigate exercise-induced muscle damage, avoiding inflammation and alleviating soreness. This can help you to perform physically in the following days which you may not have been able to do before (Jagim, 2024).

    Stress relief

    Cold water plunging has demonstrated efficacy in stress relief. Studies have shown that it can enhance mood, particularly in young, fit, and healthy individuals. Research on cold plunging found that exposure to cold water had a similar effect to exercise on mood, with exercise being a known mood raiser (Kelly & Bird, 2021)

    Reduces inflammation and pain

    Cold plunging can also help to reduce inflammation and pain. As previously mentioned, research has suggested that cold plunges can mitigate inflammation and pain caused by muscle damage. Cold water can enhance blood circulation and oxygen delivery around the body, both of which can help to reduce inflammation and pain (Wild, 2022).

    Boosts metabolism

    Your metabolism may also be improved by cold plunging, although results may vary from person to person. When exposed to cold water, the body begins a process called thermogenesis, which is when it generates heat to maintain its core temperature. This increases metabolic activity which can lead to an increase in the amount of calories the body uses to maintain warmth. Exposure to cold water may also increase the production of brown adipose tissue, a type of fat that burns energy (Abbate & Taylor, 2023).

    Improve menopausal symptoms

    Regular cold water immersion may help alleviate menopausal symptoms by reducing insulin resistance and improving insulin sensitivity, according to Feisty Menopause. This is particularly beneficial for menopausal women, as they often experience increased carbohydrate sensitivity and insulin resistance. Cold water immersion may help mitigate symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain. 

    How do you take a cold plunge?

    Taking a cold plunge can be an invigorating yet intimidating experience. You should always approach it with safety in mind to ensure you experience the full range of benefits in a safe way. Here are some tips on taking a cold plunge from Plunge.com:

    • Start easy - If you’re new to cold plunging you should start with a moderate temperature between 10-15.5°C

    • Controlled breathing - As you prepare to enter the cold water, focus on your breath. Aim for a breathing rate of 5-8 breaths per minute to activate your body's relaxation response.

    • Dunk your head under the water at the start - Immediately dunk your head under the surface of the water when you first get in. This tells your body to initiate its warming process, making the cold more tolerable.

    • Take your hands and feet out of the cold - It's normal to experience discomfort in your hands and feet during a cold plunge. This is due to the high concentration of nerve endings in these body parts. If necessary, you can alternate between submerging and lifting your hands and feet out of the water.

    • Submerge yourself to the neck - Make sure that you are fully immersed in the cold water to the upper part of your neck. This activates the vagus nerve, which promotes a hormonal response and maximises the benefits of the cold plunge.

    According to Ritual Nordic Spa, the target time you should try and complete is three minutes. As you do more and more cold plunges you will be able to expand this time further. 

    Video: Joe Wicks Takes His First Ice Bath Cold Plunge

    Check out the video below where The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, documents his first-ever experience of taking a cold plunge in an ice bath:

    Does cold plunging cause any risks?

    Cold plunging, while it does offer numerous benefits, can also pose certain risks. Immersion in cold water can cause significant stress on the body which could lead to respiratory, cardiovascular, and peripheral neurovascular injuries (Tipton et al, 2022). One response associated with cold plunges which poses significant risk is a cold shock.

    This reaction begins with a decrease in skin temperature and includes symptoms such as hypertension, arrhythmias and an increased risk of drowning due to a loss of breathing control. While cold plunging can have significant risks associated with it, it is important to stress that it can also provide benefits when it is done correctly. 

    What are the health benefits of an ice bath?

    As with a cold plunge, an ice bath can also have a number of different benefits. Ice baths are different to cold plunges, and will offer some different benefits. Below are the top 5 benefits of ice baths that you could experience. 

    Post-workout recovery

    Ice baths have been outlined as a valuable tool for post-workout recovery. The idea revolves around the theory that ice baths slow down blood flow, helping for a quicker return to normal circulation when you exit the bath. This helps to get fresh, oxygen-rich blood to damaged muscles quicker than normal, speeding up the healing process and reducing muscle inflammation (Barecca, 2024)

    Improved mood

    After an ice bath, some people have reported feeling more alert and invigorated, leading to an improvement in their moods. This could be due to the reduction of inflammation and pain that comes with an ice bath, making someone feel better and happier in general (Millhone & Carter, 2023).

    Enhances central nervous system

    Ice baths may potentially impact the central nervous system through their effects on circulation and inflammation. The rapid cooling of the body during an ice bath can trigger physiological responses. Some research suggests that cold exposure may stimulate the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that modulate the function of the central nervous system, potentially influencing mood and overall neurological health (Wilson & Lindberg, 2023).

    Helps alleviate pain

    The cold sensation experienced during an ice bath can activate thermal nerve cells, which can lead to a decreased perception of pain. The cold temperature of ice baths can also cause vasoconstriction which reduces blood flow to areas affected by pain. This can help to alleviate inflammation and swelling which may be causing pain (Hyde, 2023).

    Promotes relaxation and better sleep

    Some people who have used an ice bath after they have had a workout have reported that they feel more relaxed and get better sleep after having had one. The sensation of cold water immersion may help alleviate muscle tension and promote a sense of relaxation, which can contribute to improved sleep quality (Kee, 2024). It's important to note that scientific evidence supporting the specific effects of ice baths on relaxation and sleep is limited. 

    How do you take an ice bath?

    Taking an ice bath involves immersing yourself in a tub or container filled with cold water and ice. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to take an ice bath at home:

    1. Fill a bathtub or container with cold water. A good temperature for beginners is between 10-15.°C. Ice baths are typically between 1-4°C.

    2. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water.

    3. Lower yourself carefully into the ice bath ensuring your entire body is submerged. Take slow and deep breaths to help your body adjust to the temperature.

    4. Aim to stay in the ice bath for at least to 10-15 minutes. If you are new to ice baths you should start with shorter durations and gradually increase the time as you get more used to ice baths. 

    5. Throughout the ice bath, focus on your breathing to help relax your body and mind. Take slow, intentional breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling fully.

    6. When you're ready to exit the ice bath, slowly stand up and step out of the tub. Wrap yourself in a warm towel or robe to help warm up your body.

    7. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated after the ice bath. Allow yourself time to rest and relax, allowing your body to fully recover from the cold water immersion.

    Do ice baths cause any risks?

    It is important to always remain safe when you are doing an ice bath. There are three main risks associated with ice baths. These are drowning, hypothermia, which is caused by prolonged exposure to cold water, and heart attacks as cold water can place stress on the cardiovascular system. To minimise these risks you should measure your breathing, go in feet first, and always allow time to gradually warm up your body (Seager, 2022).

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