Ice Bath Benefits
Cold water therapy can offer a number of benefits. While ice baths may not sound appealing, they can work wonders. Discover more in this post.
Ice baths are extremely common in the sports world, mostly because of how good it feels afterwards. Ice baths are used because of how they affect your body, both physically and mentally. But cold water therapy is not just for professional athletes or even solely for post intense exercise or training session. Adoption of cold water therapy is rapidly increasing among the general population as awareness increases of the health benefits of cold immersion and how exposure to cold temperatures has many potential benefits.
Cold water has many benefits, which range from increased metabolism to weight loss. When it comes to training, ice baths have been shown to decrease inflammation. They can also help with recovery. Cold water immersion is common in an ice bath, natural water, dip tank or similar and exposing your body to cold water can be beneficial in many areas of your life, from mood to metabolism and from stress relief to sleep. Cold therapy is fast becoming mainstream and many people are switching on to the benefits of ice baths and cold water immersion and are choosing to build them into their lifestyle.
Cold exposure in ice water or cold water for brief periods is a common activity. Many professional athletes have adopted cold water therapy as part of their training regime because an ice bath is invigorating and can help with recovery after strenuous exercise. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that this may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). A cold bath can reduce swelling, reduce inflammation, prevent injury and enables athletes to recover faster. There are many reasons to take an ice bath whether you are an endurance athlete or not. Here are some of the most compelling reasons that prove how effective taking regular ice baths can be for you:
1 – Recovery Time Reduction For the first few minutes, immersion in very cold water induces a degree of stress on your body. This is called the ‘cold shock response’. Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration all increase, as does peripheral vasoconstriction (narrowing of the vessels in hands and feet). However, after a few minutes your body adapts to this, heart rate drops back down again and you’ll likely feel exhilarated from the rush of whole-body vibration known as post-ice bath shivers. Cold baths or a cold shower can be a great first step to exploring cold water exposure.
2 – Cold Therapy’s Effect On Muscle Soreness. Ice baths are also popular for reducing muscle soreness. There are many theories about how it works but one theory is that ice baths help prevent secondary hyperalgesia (pain caused by damaged tissue). A study investigating water immersion found that it reduced DOMS and improved muscle performance. If you’re recovering from a sports injury cold water immersion may help to reduce your pain either immediately after the injury or later on as part of an active recovery. (you should consult your GP)
3 – Improve Metabolic Rate. Cold exposure causes an increase in metabolic rate by stimulating brown adipose tissue (BAT) activity. BAT is found mostly in small animals such as mice but also exists in humans too. It helps generate body heat, which is why babies cannot regulate their own temperature very well and typically have a lot of fat stores distributed across their bodies. Brown fat exists around our collar bones and upper back, along our spinal cord around the neck and shoulder blades, and around the kidneys.
White fat, by comparison, is found mostly elsewhere in the body (such as under the skin) and stores energy. It is less metabolically active than brown fat – which sounds like a bad thing but actually isn’t because it means that white fat doesn’t contribute to body heat in cold conditions. BAT has many functions including glucose uptake and lipolysis (breaking down of fat for use as energy). Studies suggest that repeated cold water stimulation may lead to reduced blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity and reduced cholesterol.
4 – Cold Exposure May Burn More Calories A study on people with diet-controlled Type 2 Diabetes showed they burned more calories overall when exposed to 17°C compared to 22°C. The reduction was quite small but still significant.
5 – Sleeping Better Another interesting thing about cold exposure is that it may aid sleep. Exposure of the whole body to 17°C has been shown to reduce core temperature and heart rate at bedtime. Sleep quality has also been shown to improve with regular cold water immersion.
One theory behind this is that we have evolved through time in a low-temperature environment and our bodies adapt well to cooler temperatures – which means we can relax into them and fall asleep more easily. Since most of us live and work indoors where it’s warmer than outside, this could be why some people struggle to sleep.
6 – Boost Your Immune System. Ultra-cold water (between 0°C and 10°C) has been shown to improve immune function in a swimming pool setting, leading the researchers to suggest that a cold shower or ice bath might boost your immunity after a workout. One theory is that cold exposure leads to an increase in blood nitric oxide levels which improves our ability to fight infections. Exercise itself also boosts immune function but does not seem as effective as cold water immersion at increasing natural killer cell activity – one of the body’s first lines of defence against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.
8 – Enhanced Cognitive Performance. Cold showers or ice baths can enhance cognitive performance by up to 30%. This means it could be beneficial to you in a number of ways, from getting an edge in exams, to thinking on your feet when you’re giving a presentation or simply retaining focus while working. It might not sound very likely but according to the experts, it’s real.
9 – Stress Relief. Exposure to cold reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). Cold water immersion has been shown to reduce psychological stress after exercise, which is good news for anyone who over-trains or has a stressful job that requires them to work hard physically. A study published in 2007 also suggested that cold showers may be beneficial in treating depression by increasing brain serotonin concentrations.
10 – Improved Quality Of Life Another sign that cold water exposure can improve quality of life is better mood control. A clinical trial on young adults showed that cold hydrotherapy was better than hot at improving mood. In the study, the participants were exposed to either cold or hot conditions before being asked to complete a questionnaire about their mood. Those who had been exposed to the colder water reported improved mood compared with those in hotter conditions.
Let’s take a closer look at how water therapy and ice cold water can benefit us.
Give your central nervous system a boost
The first benefit that we are going to take a look at is the impact that regular ice baths can have in terms of your central nervous system.
An ice bath can aid your central nervous system, enabling you to enjoy a more restful and rejuvenating sleep. You will have less fatigue, and this is going to make you feel better overall.
We all know the importance of having a good night’s sleep. If you don’t get your 6 to 8 hours, you can feel irritated the following day and this can have a number of negative effects on your health. Luckily, by having regular ice baths, you won’t have to worry about this as much.
Furthermore, you may also notice that your explosiveness and reaction times enhance in future workouts as well.
Ice Bath Benefits for Mental Health
There are a lot of physical benefits associated with ice baths, which is something we will discuss in full in this blog post. However, it is also important to note that ice baths can be beneficial from a mental health perspective as well.
The majority of people do not consider an ice bath to be a pleasurable experience. In fact, it can be rather horrible at first! However, this will get better with relaxation, concentrating on your breathing, and even a bit of distraction.
As time goes on, you will be able to build up your tolerance for the ice bath, and this ends up being a critical part of your recovery process. Your adaptation and resilience is something that can make you feel much stronger from a mental perspective, and this is something you are going to be able to carry into other areas of your life – not just exercise and sport but many other areas as well.
Lower the impact of humidity and heat
Another reason to consider taking regular ice baths is that they may help to lower the impact of humidity and heat. If you are going to be participating in a long race, for example, and you know that the humidity or temperature is going to be high, taking an ice bath beforehand as preparation makes a lot of sense.
The reason for this is that the ice bath can help to reduce your core body temperature by a few degrees, and this can actually result in a better level of performance.
Train your vagus nerve
Another benefit associated with taking an ice bath that a lot of people do not realise is that regular baths can help in terms of strengthening and conditioning your vagus nerve. For those who are unaware, your vagus nerve is important because it is connected with the parasympathetic nervous system. Therefore, if you train your vagus nerve, you are going to be better equipped to deal with stressful situations.
Recover more effectively
In addition to the benefits that we have mentioned so far, there has also been research that has shown that athletes feel like they are recovering more effectively by taking ice baths.
We can elude to a number of different studies to see that this is the case. For example, there was one study that was carried out in 2017 and involved MMA competitors. After they had finished working out, they would dunk themselves in cold water. Those who did this reported feeling less sore when compared with the group that did not take an ice bath.
Another study that has given us some further insight into this was carried out in 2018. It involved participants in a mixed martial arts competition. They would spend 15 minutes submerged in the cold water after they had been training or in competition. It was revealed that athletes reported feeling better as a consequence. They stated feeling less fatigued, less stressed, and enjoying more restful sleep.
Reduce muscle soreness
Last but not least, we cannot talk about the benefits of taking an ice bath without mentioning muscle soreness reduction. According to a study that was carried out in 2017, you can reduce both muscle soreness and inflammation after intensive training bouts if you take an ice bath. In this study, 15 participants were immersed in water that had a temperature of 10 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes after they had finished their exercise regime. Once the 15 minutes were up, the group rested in ambient air, i.e. at room temperature.
The researchers determined that cold water ice therapy was successful in lowering neopterin, an inflammatory marker, within two hours after participants had their training sections. In basic terms, this means that 15 minutes in cold water could help to lower muscle soreness once you have been training when compared with simply relaxing in a room with chilly air temperature.
The benefits of taking an ice bath
As you can see, ice baths work and there are a number of different benefits that are associated with taking ice baths. There is more research being done into the benefits of ice bathing and it seems clear that evidence will continue to stack up in favour of cold therapy. While an ice bath may not seem like the most appealing activity in the world, it is something that everyone can benefit from. From easing sore muscles to enhancing your recovery, there are a lot of different advantages that people gain by deciding to have an ice bath. So, are you ready to take the plunge? Book an ice bath experience with Urban Ice Man today.
1 – “Increased energy expenditure during whole body cold exposure.” PubMed 27 June 2007. U.S. National Library of Medicine, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17604888>
2 – “Co