Cold Water Therapy isn’t for everyone. Getting into Icy Cold Water isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Lately more and more people have been asking me why I am using Cold Water Therapy. It seems to have boomed in popularity. For me it is something that just crept up on me but there are many benefits.
The Physical Benefits
Muscle Soreness, Recovery and Pain
Cold Water is a low maintenance solution to muscle soreness, recovery and pain relief. I have to admit that it is running that has started my journey into cold water therapy. Runners were talking of swapping hot baths with Epsom salts for an ice bath instead. I am all for saving money and the planet so I thought I would give it a try. Well I wasn’t that brave so basically just ran my bath with water from the cold tap.
Cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict. The reduction of blood flow to an area then helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
Cross-Training with Cold Water Swimming
Being able to tolerate cold water also meant that I could swim in the river. Cross-training my running with swimming at a minimal cost. As the winter came though this switched to the lake as rivers can be a lot more dangerous.
Benefits to Hair and Skin
Cold water therapy can result in glowing hair and skin. The sebum layer, which protects the hair and skin, doesn’t dry out with cold water. This may be why it is good for calming itchy skin. I definitely love how my hair and skin feel since I have been doing it.
Cold Water and Weight Loss
Cold Water is associated with weight loss, due to something to do with brown fat. It is also known to speed up the metabolic rate. Although not all cold water swimmers lose weight!
I have definitely lost weight and it is most certainly not to do with an improved diet. Although, I am not sure whether it is due to the cold water therapy alone or coupled with the fact that I am outside more. Definitely being more used to the cold has given me less of an excuse not to just get out there and move.
Cold Water Therapy is also believed to help boost the immune system. I cannot say how this works though but definitely a good benefit to have.
The Mental Benefits
Cold Water Therapy – it is in the name. It isn’t referred to as Cold Water Therapy for no reason: Cold water is good for your mental health. I found this felt especially as the temperature drops. A mixture of euphoria and fear of what may happen.
How it helps with the mental benefits I believe is due to a number of factors. First, there’s a great community of cold water swimmers, and that in itself has a feel good factor. Everyone is so kind, and helpful too. A real sense of belonging.
Then there are the changes in the brain associated with cold water. It definitely increases endorphins – which make you feel good. This might be one of the reasons that cold water therapy is believed to help with symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety.
In fact no matter how cold the water is, each time I cannot help but laugh! As well as giving a lasting glow and energy for the day. This is perfect for those who need something to help wake them up.
Cold Water Therapy Mindfulness
Once the initial cold shock response has occurred there is this like warm glow around me. I would compare it to what I assume the enlightenment feels like. Locked away in the moment. Which is all warm and fuzzy. Well maybe apart from my hands and feet. I actually worry that one day I may totally get caught in the moment and forget to get out of my garden bath!
The Vagus Nerve
After some research it turns out that this is because cold water activates the vagus nerve. It is referred to as the parasympathetic mode (commonly known as ‘rest-and-digest). This turns off our fight-or-flight response, slows down breathing and heart rate. The response helps develop a sharper mental focus; deal with stress and improve sleep (which also results in feeling less fatigued and improved reaction times).
Cold Water and The Sympathetic Nervous System
Cold water instigates the release of the hormone norepinephrine from the sympathetic nervous system. It increases heart rate and blood pumping from the heart. Increases blood pressure and helps break down fat and increase blood sugar levels to provide more energy to the body.
Risks with Cold Water Therapy
Of course there are risks with Cold Water Therapy. Seek advice before attempting it and don’t just jump straight in. Make sure you are not alone – especially due to the risks of hypothermia. Those with pre-existing cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure are more at risk. Likewise those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are not recommended to do it, as it is harder to maintain core temperature during extreme temperature changes.
Personally I would not advise children do it -but I have seen many parents on social media do it with their children. Remember it does come with fatal consequences if something should go wrong!
See Plutonium Sox Blog Post on Health Benefits of Cold Water Swimming