Nature's cold water could be the cheap, accessible and invigorating health hack you've been looking for - to stay well, energised and promote optimal health. Here's everything you need to know.
What exactly is cold water therapy?
Exposing the body to cold temperatures has been shown to have a number of health benefits. From boosting the immune system to enhancing post-workout recovery and even helping to manage the symptoms of depression.
One of the best ways to enjoy the benefits of short immersions in cold temperatures is with cold water therapy. Also known as cold hydrotherapy, this involves deliberately exposing the body to cold water with the aim of stimulating the associated health benefits.
How Cold Water Therapy Works
As humans, our bodies are fine tuned to react and adjust to changes in temperatures. Exposure to different temperatures stimulates various physiological effects, which can have knock on effects elsewhere in the body - the underlying mechanism of the benefits of cold water therapy.
Benefits of Cold Water Therapy
There are many amazing benefits of cold water therapy, most of which are best enjoyed by utilising cold water often - rather than once in a blue moon. Here are just a few of our favourites.
- Boosting immune health
Research has shown that people who enjoy a cold shower daily have higher levels of anti-inflammatory chemicals and cytokines, which modulate the immune system. Frequent cold water therapy is thought to increase immune resilience and reduce the severity of common colds and viruses.
- Post-workout recovery
Taking a plunge in cold water is something athletes have been utilising for decades. It causes the blood vessels in muscles to constrict, lowering inflammation and helping muscles to repair post-exercise. It has also been shown to help reduce both injury risk and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
- Improved circulation
Another well known benefit of cold water therapy is improved circulation, which is also driven by the effect of cold temperatures on blood vessels. Immersion in cold water causes blood to rush away from the skin toward the core, so that it can keep vital organs warm and protect them. The knock on effect of this is improved blood flow and circulation.
- Mood & Depression
Both cold water showers and cold water swimming have been shown to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Whilst it is early days for research to prove this conclusively, it is likely that the wider benefits of cold water therapy can all have a positive impact on mood.
- Increased energy
If you've ever taken a cold shower in the morning then you'll know that it is one of the best ways to wake up and feel energised! Exposure to cold water sends electrical pulses to the brain which help to increase mental clarity, focus and energy as well as releasing endorphins (our happy hormones).
- Improved longevity
As well as the cumulative effects of all the health benefits already discussed, early research has shown that cold water therapy may directly influence longevity. Studies have found that cold water immersion stimulates the survival activity of DNA cells - with repeated use over time this could help to boost longevity.
How cold is cold?
Once you have learned all about the amazing benefits of cold water therapy, you will want to dive straight in and give it a go yourself. The first thing you might ask yourself is "how cold is cold?"
Whilst the optimal temperature for cold water therapy is much debated, the general consensus is that anything under 15C is considered cold enough to bring benefits. Seasoned cold water users will brave temperatures of much less though, down to just a few degrees - brrrr!
Best Types of Cold Water Therapy
There are various ways to experience the benefits of cold water therapy, here are just a few.
One of the easiest ways to enjoy the benefits of cold water therapy regularly is with cold brisk showers. Enjoying a cold shower instead of a hot one is a simple switch which make hydrotherapy part of your daily routine.
If the thought of a cold shower makes you want to jump back into your warm bed, that will soon change when you begin to enjoy the refreshing and energising effects almost instantly.
You can introduce cold showers gradually by lowering the temperature a little everyday and challenging yourself to stick with it - OR, you could just plunge yourself in the deep end and twist the dial to its coldest setting!
Ice baths have been an invaluable tool in post-exercise recovery for decades. With all the mod-cons and technological developments in the sporting world, this hack has withstood the test of time to remain a firm favourite for enhancing muscle repair and speeding up recovery time.
It may seem a bit of a hassle to arrange an ice bath yourself, but enjoying a full ice bath at your local spa or sports centre can be a great way to gain the benefits of cold water therapy - particularly for post-workout recovery.
Not only is wild swimming an easy and enjoyable way to enjoy cold water, but it has plentiful benefits when it comes to reconnecting with nature and our ancestral desire for wilderness.
Needless to say, whether you're a novice or seasoned swimmer you should always be extremely careful when swimming in nature. Do your research and choose an area that's relatively safe and always avoid swimming alone.
Practical Tips for Getting Cold Water Therapy Right
Whichever method you choose to incorporate cold water therapy into your healthy lifestyle, there are some simple tips you can use to make sure you get it right and get to enjoy the maximum benefits.
You don't need to stay in cold water to enjoy the positive effects - just get in it. Even short immersions in the cold - like a plunge in an ice bath or a brisk cold shower - are enough to feel the benefits.
Drop the temperature gradually
If you've tried cold water therapy before or just think it won't be for you, don't give up just yet! Try to introduce your body to lower temperatures gradually, perhaps by having a colder and colder shower each day. You'll soon begin to acclimatise and become resilient to lower temperatures.
Warm back up
Common sense dictates that staying cold over time is bad for us. Once you have enjoyed your cold water therapy, be sure to bring your body back to its core temperature and keep nice and warm.
Always be sensible & safe
Cold water exposure can be dangerous with concerns from getting cramp in the water and being unable to swim, to far more serious matters such as transient global amnesia - a serious neurological condition which can be caused by cold water immersion.
Although these are thankfully rare, they are possible and it is always worth making sure you never go it alone particularly if wild swimming.
Now that you've learned all about Cold Water Therapy, all that's left to do is take the plunge and start feeling the benefits!
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.