For many decades, modern athletes and celebrities have purported the benefits of hopping into an icy cold bath after an intense workout or game/match. Tim Robbins swears by a daily plunge into a 57-degrees bath, as do many competing athletes at the top of their game. Probably the biggest and most well-known spokesperson for the benefits of cold-water therapy is Wim Hof. With a nickname like The Iceman, it’s not surprising.
Whether you are a weekend warrior when it comes to exercise or sports or have your eyes set on competing at a high level, you may be wondering why so many people choose this extreme form of recovery.
Particularly as the last thing you may want to do after leaving it all out there on the track or field is to put yourself through more torture in an unnaturally cold bath or shower.
Well, you’ve come to the right place, as in the following post that’s exactly what we are going to discuss – the reported benefits of cold-water immersion.
Before that, a little background on this intriguing form of therapy that has a surprisingly long history.
What is Cold Water Immersion Therapy?
It is often referred to by a variety of different names – cold water therapy, plunge pools, and ice baths, but cold-water immersion is essentially a type of recovery that, as the name suggests, involves the immersion of your body in cold water. How cold should the water be? Typically, water in ice baths should be no more than 10 to 15-degrees Celsius, or 50 to 59-degrees Fahrenheit.
Curiously, while modern athletes like the Wim Hof have popularized it in recent decades, it’s got a history that stretches back to Ancient Greece. And philosopher Hippocrates, who is normally credited as being the first to record hydrotherapy’s health benefits. Following on from the great man, other ancient civilizations such as the Chinese, Egyptian, and Roman all used it.
Why? Although there is a certain degree of controversy surrounding it and some arguments that it is not as effective as those who preach about it would like you to think, it does offer some startling benefits when used as part of recovery for athletes.
Improves Your Lymphatic System
Your body’s lymphatic system is a series of connected vessels that cover the whole of your body, that clears the microbes, bacteria, and any waste present in cells. In contrast to blood and how that is pumped around your body constantly by your heart, lymph fluid isn’t. Muscle contraction is what sends lymph fluid around the body via their vessels.
This means when you are not exercising enough or the lymphatic system starts to get inefficient or slow, lymph fluid becomes stagnate and unwanted toxins collect up, producing unpleasant side effects such as colds, infections, pain in your joints, and often diseases.
Ice baths can help stimulate your lymph vessels so that they contract, which pushes lymph fluid around your body, flushing out all that built-up waste.
This has something of a domino effect, as the cold water also triggers the white blood cells of your immune system that then start to attack and dispose of any substances present in the lymph fluid that shouldn’t be there.
Probably one of the most well-known benefits of cold-water immersion how it counteracts the effects of painful muscles and inflammation caused by intense workouts and bouts of physical activity and exercise. The cold water lowers the temperature of the muscle tissue that is damaged during your workout and constricts the blood vessels, reducing the amount of inflammation and swelling.
Amazingly, this can numb your nerve endings, which acts as an instant and direct hit of pain relief.
Better Circulation and Improved Heart Health
One integral component to having good health and well-being, in general, is good circulation. Poor circulation compromises the free flow of blood around your body places pressure and stress on your heart. Which then leads to muscle cramping, headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, and then, if unchecked, heart attack, and even a stroke.
When your circulation is better, so too is your metabolism, immune system, mental performance, and heart health, providing you with energy and strength. It’s true that a healthy diet and exercise are the best ways to improve your circulation. CWI, though, has also been shown to provide excellent stimulation for the flow of blood around your body.
As your body is immersed in the ice-cold water, blood starts to rush around your vital organs. Your heart is then forced to deliver blood more efficiently around your body, to ensure the nutrients and oxygen it needs are supplied.
Improves Your Vagus Nerve
Another curious benefit of ice baths and cold-water immersion, according to Aurimas Juodka, a certified specialist in strength and conditioning is how it can help train and improve the vagus nerve. What is the vagus nerve? This is a special nerve linked to the body’s parasympathetic nervous system.
Training this nerve and improving this crucial system can help you deal with high-stress situations more effectively.
As your mental health is just as important as your physical health, it’s worth noting how cold therapy can impact your mood. If you submerge your body in an ice bath or take a cold shower, this stimulates the release of dopamine and other mood-enhancing chemicals that make you feel better.
Therefore, to conclude, if you have often wondered why athletes put themselves through the seeming discomfort of an ice-cold bath after a rigorous workout on the track, field, court or pitch, now you know. As well as helping to ease the soreness and pain, it can reduce inflammation and swelling, improve your circulation and lymphatic system. On top of all that, it will even leave you feeling happier. Cold water immersion has been shown to improve your skin by reducing pore size and tightening up the biggest organ on your body, preventing excessive levels of oil being released and stimulating your hair follicles to produce