5 Health Benefits of Ice Baths: Things to Know Before a Plunge
Learn the health benefits of ice bath. Read on to learn about how it works, the risks involved, and tips to keep in mind before immersing in cold showers.
With recent skincare trends that include dunking your face in a bowl full of ice-cold water, a lot of attention was fetched by this decades-long practice of whole-body cryotherapy or cold water immersion for its potential benefits. A favorite of celebrities and athletes alike, ice baths stir a chilly discussion around its treatment and benefits. A cold plunge or a dip in icy water for a brief time, after an intense workout or playing sports, is deemed advantageous for reducing muscle soreness and muscle pain. This enduring session of ice baths has caused debates among experts based on the assumed results. Some associate the cold exposure with a placebo effect while others vouch for its rewarding aftereffects. Before we delve into the details of the health benefits of ice baths and cold water therapy backed by researchers, it’s safe to state that a dip in an ice tub is as refreshing and spine-chilling as it sounds!
What Research Says About Ice Baths?
Regular ice baths and cold therapy are relatively more common among athletes, especially during competitive situations with repetitive stints of exercise, to gain enhanced recovery.
While exercising, there is an increase in the average blood pressure and heart rate which then increases the volume of the muscles, leading to edema, which can be simply interpreted as swelling. The increase in blood flow also escalates the production of lactic acid, which carries oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body and is generally low in blood. When a person practices cold immersion, the physiological effects are known similar to active recovery, post-exercise. The immersion causes an increase in muscle volume and a reduction in inflammation of soft tissue by constricting the blood vessels. During immersions, it is also observed that cardiac output increases by 102%. The cardiac output provides adequate oxygen-rich blood flow during physiological stress. This study represents the effects of ice bath post exercises, however, there are uncertainties regarding the benefits of ice baths and deeper research is required. (1)
Another study from 2017 concludes that cold water immersions are particularly useful for competitive situations that include tournaments, sports events or cycling meets, that require short bouts of intense workouts. Such occasions can especially be damaging in nature or cause increased physiological response and stress and enhanced recovery could be useful for athletes.
However, the limitations of the study indicate that there is no clear justification for the practice of cold water immersions for regular use, like training sessions where the goal is to develop a hypertrophic response. Thus, as mentioned previously, further research is needed in this field of growing interest. (2)
5 Health Benefits of Ice Baths that You Must Know of
Ice bath immersion for 10 to 15 minutes is a popular practice among athletes and exercise enthusiasts, for the benefits it lends in a brief session. Despite the constant discussion on the enhanced recovery by ice baths, there are some benefits that cannot be overlooked. Read on to find the top iced bath benefits and why bathing in reduced water temperature has been a favorite resort for many:
1. Reduces Inflammation and Swelling
A plunge in the icy bath narrows the blood vessels, due to the drastic drop in the temperature. The constricted blood flow in the muscles leads to a reduction in inflammation and swelling (3). The increase in cardiac output due to cold water immersion is highly beneficial in affecting physiological stress (1).
2. Relaxes Sore Muscles
It is commonly believed that dwelling in a cold bath might aid in relieving soreness after exercise which affects muscles and lessens the pain. The limited studies suggest that the reduction in inflammation and slowed nerve signaling might be the cause for such results. (4) It is also noted that the ice baths reduce post-exercise, delay the onset of muscle soreness, and ease the pain in sore muscles. (5) Other forms of cryotherapy like ice pack treatment are also known to relieve pain from chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, gout, etc. even though it might be temporary. (6)
3. Drops the Core Body Temperature
One of the most prominent benefits of cold water immersion is how refreshing the cooling effect feels. After a workout, when your body’s temperature rises there are high chances of getting a heat stroke or heat exhaustion. It is suggested that immersing in cold water for 10 minutes can significantly reduce the temperature of your core body post an intense exercise session. (7)
4. Enhances Immunity
Some suggestive studies have found that cold water treatment coupled with breathing exercises and meditation showed enhanced healthy immune systems among the subjects (8). There has also been found evidence of fewer bacterial infections among those who practiced cold water immersion than those who did not (9). Thus a cold plunge may improve the immune response.
5. Better Well-Being of Mental Health
The cryotherapy mechanism is believed to be beneficial for the well-being of mental health. A study found that indulging in an ice bath four times a week for a 20-minute session proved to be advantageous for people suffering from gout. They also experienced enhanced mobility in joints and an overall relaxed demeanor. (10) The exposure to cold temperatures is what causes a stress response in the body, eventually leading to the activation of the nervous system. (11)
Side Effects of Taking Ice Baths
The most remarkable side effects of ice baths are associated with the risk of cardiorespiratory disease. The concerned issue is linked to the initial shock that the body undergoes while entering the cold icy water after a heated exercise.
Another well-known side effect of ice baths is the heightened risk of hypothermia. When your body loses more heat than it can create, there is a stark temperature drop which is referred to as hypothermia. This can lead to the failure of the heart in extreme conditions.
Freezing injuries like chilblains, and trench foot, and non-freezing injuries like frostbite and windburn can also be a possible risk of cold water immersion, depending on the circumstances. (3)
Tips for Taking Ice Bath
Before you land up frozen in the ice-chilled bath filled to the brim with ice cubes and imagine yourself exposed to snowy winds in a mountain high above, there are certain steps to follow and measures to keep in mind:
The temperature of ice bath: Start off by filling up a lukewarm water tub and gradually add ice cubes to increase the temperature, and monitor by using a thermometer. The ideal temperature of an ice bath can be approximately 50–59° Fahrenheit or 10–15° Celsius.
Time duration in ice bath: It is suggested to keep your immersion session no longer than 10 to 15 minutes. According to your comfort level, it is advisable to start with a short period of time and avoid adverse effects of it.
Body exposure: The best results are gained through full-body submersion. However, starting off steadily with the lower body first and moving up towards the chest is a safe method of trying ice baths.
Ice bath immersions have numerous benefits, especially for athletes. It can relieve sore muscles, reduce inflammation, and cheer up the mood. There are various versions of ice baths that must be looked into in order to gain the best and most suitable results. With a scientific understanding and knowledge of potential risks, ice baths are a pretty safe bath that can be practiced a few times in a week, especially post-exercise.