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Cold Plunging: Is it Worth the Hype?

I am one of those people who is constantly chilly – even if the heat is turned on. Since I grew up in Arizona and currently live in Southern California, you could say I am quite the baby when it comes to cold-temperature activities. So when I first learned about the cold plunging trend, I hesitated to explore it. To me, it seemed like almost no benefit could be worth a cold plunge –  AKA soaking in an ice cold bath for up to 10 minutes. But after researching the supposed advantages of the bone-chilling activity, I have to say my perspective has shifted. 

Cold plunging is just what it sounds like: sitting in an ice-cold bath while submerged up to the neck. For many people, the goal is to remain submerged for three to 10 minutes. The trend has gained popularity recently due to its numerous purported health benefits, which we will discuss momentarily. The best part for many people? It’s possible to reap the benefits of cold plunging from the comfort (if you can call it that!) of your home – just fill your bath with freezing cold water and hop in! 

But what is the science behind cold plunging, and how does it work to provide these promising benefits? Let’s dive in.

The Benefits of Cold Plunging

Increases Energy

Try cold plunging if you’re looking for ways to boost energy levels. Cold water stimulates an energy hormone called norepinephrine. Researchers have found that the secretion of norepinephrine can increase attention, focus, and energy levels. Many of my clients find that their energy levels are off the charts after doing a morning cold plunge! In fact, I’d say that’s the number one benefit they report. 

Supports Lymphatic System

A healthy lymphatic system is essential for clearing out toxins and waste in the body. Cold plunging can stimulate the lymph vessels and encourage lymph fluid to circulate through the body. One study found that cold therapy combined with ankle weights for added pressure in the water significantly increased lymph flow in the body. Although ankle weights boost circulation in the lymphatic system, evidence indicates that cold plunging without ankle weights can also improve circulation tremendously.

Strengthens Immune System

I’ll do almost anything to boost my immune system and increase my white blood cells to fight infections. Cold plunging is scientifically proven to increase white blood cell count due to increased circulation from cold water exposure. Cold plunging can also decrease inflammation and fight bacterial infections when combined with meditation and breathwork. But expect it to take some time to reach the level of being able to sit in an ice bath while meditating – it is quite the physical and mental challenge!

Boosts Mood

Cold plunging can completely reset your nervous system and decrease feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. Cold water exposure increases beta-endorphins and noradrenaline, making you feel optimistic and happy. For example, researchers conducting a study on the topic found that dopamine increased by 250% after a cold plunge, and cortisol levels decreased significantly.

Reduces Inflammation

One reason athletes soak in cold water after a game is that ice baths can reduce inflammation in joints and muscles. Cold exposure can trigger a “cold shock response,” which causes an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. This process constricts blood vessels, preventing them from sending too much blood to inflamed areas. For this reason, those with arthritis and other painful conditions may benefit from a cold soak.

Deepens Sleep

As you know, I am serious about my sleep health. Cold plunging has done wonders for my quality of sleep! Cold water plunges stimulate the Vagus nerve, one of the nerves responsible for feeling calm and relaxed. Enhanced feelings of serenity do wonders for helping people get to sleep faster and remain sleeping longer. Those who cold plunge may find it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

Supports Weight Management

Cold plunging can boost the metabolism by a whopping 350%, according to a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Cold exposure makes the body work harder to warm up while burning stored fat. Additionally, soaking in cold water increases heart rate, which burns extra calories and supports weight loss. Although cold plunging isn’t the most crucial weight loss method, it can certainly aid in weight loss efforts.

Potential Risks of Cold Plunging

Like many wellness trends, cold plunging doesn’t come without risks. Cold exposure can cause frostbite, hypothermia, heart arrhythmias, and heart attacks. Make sure to speak to your doctor before trying cold plunging for yourself. Additionally, experts recommend slowly working your way up to fifteen minutes in the ice-cold bath to let your body acclimate. Over time, I slowly worked my way up to cold plunging by rinsing in freezing cold water for 15 seconds at the end of my daily shower.

How to Cold Plunge at Home

  1. Prepare your bath with cold water. Preferably, prepare a cold plunge bath in the morning to reap the terrific benefits all day long.
  2. Before dipping into the cold bath, test the water temperature with your hand or a bath thermometer. Add one or two cups of ice to the water if it’s not cold enough. Temperatures for cold immersions range from 39 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so you will want to work your way up (or down, I should say!), 
  3. Gently lower your body into the cold water. Go slowly and stop if the water feels too uncomfortably cold.
  4. Stay in the bath for at least 20 seconds and work your way up to a more extended period of 10 minutes. Focus on your breath, or try a short meditation while soaking in the cold water.
  5. Dry off using a towel and get ready for your day. Avoid jumping in a hot shower and warm up naturally or experiment with transitioning to a sauna if one is available to you. 

***

Like I said before, I’m a warm-temperature girl, but even I can’t resist doing a cold plunge every now and then. It just makes me feel terrific! I’ve found that after a cold plunge, my energy is at an all-time high, my sleep improves, and my mood is much more balanced. But if cold plunging doesn’t feel right for you (and, trust me, I would understand why), I invite you to book a one-on-one session with me to learn about alternative strategies for getting the same benefits.

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