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Should You Be Using an Ice Bath for Mental & Physical Recovery?

by Matt Weik

After a long workout, what’s better than an ice bath to soothe muscle pain, stiffness, and inflammation?

Immersing yourself in cold water through the use of an ice bath to improve your health may sound weird or a bit unusual at first, but research shows that implementing it into your recovery regimen works like magic!

Moreover, ice bath has been used as a healing method for centuries but has really only taken on to the health and fitness community here in the US over the last few years. That being said, what’s the science behind using an ice bath? What are the benefits? Is it safe for everyone?

In this article, we will cover all of those questions and more. So, let’s dive in!

What is an ice bath?

Have you ever seen athletes or fitness enthusiasts jumping in freezing water soon after a workout or athletic performance? For instance, you’ve probably seen videos or pictures of NBA players lying in an ice bath after a game soaking. Well, an ice bath isn’t so uncommon, it’s just not many people have been talking about it until recently

Ice bath, also known as Cold Water Immersion (CWI), is the practice of taking a dip in cold water (50-59 °F) for around 10-15 minutes after an intense workout session or game. This helps to reduce muscle pain and soreness, and also helps to treat various health conditions.

Cryotherapy is another recovery technique that has been extremely hot lately where you stand in a chamber that drops the temperature down extremely low and provides similar benefits.

Though ice bath has been around for years, recent adaptations include cold water immersion therapy, outdoor swims, and other various modalities.

What are the benefits of using an ice bath?

Below are some of the many benefits that you can experience through the use of an ice bath.

1.      Boost metabolism

Tired of over-exercising and cutting your favorite food just to lose weight? What if someone told you that jumping into cold water can help you lose weight and boost your metabolism? Well, an ice bath may be able to help!

When your body is exposed to cold water, it activates the brown adipose tissues or BAT (Brown Fat) in the body, which in turn helps to convert energy into heat. This helps to keep the body warm and can provide a boost in metabolic rate.

So, a healthy lifestyle combined with an ice bath can prove to be an excellent tool for weight loss when done consistently with a sound nutrition plan.

2.      Enhance immunity

Would you believe it if someone said that exposing your entire body to cold water can help you to improve immunity? Research says it’s the truth.

As per studies, exposure to cold water increases the plasma concentration of glutathione. Now, this plays an important role in the functioning of t-cell lymphocytes and activates the NK (Natural Killer) cells. Putting your body through those cold temperatures can help boost immunity.

Another study suggests that exposure to cold water on a daily basis for weeks or even months can boost anti-tumor immunity.

3.      Improve mood

Ice water is like a restart button for your mood!

Ever jumped into cold water and had that energized feeling? Or observed how it could instantly put you in a better mood? Think about if you’ve jumped in the shower after just waking up, and you turn on the water only to get blasted by freezing cold water. Instantly it’s like someone slapped you in the face and woke you up, and from that moment forward, you were ready to get on with your day.

Same thing with an ice bath when it comes to your overall mood.

The change in mood is primarily due to the release of endorphins and adrenaline, which have mood-altering benefits. So, after the initial shock of stepping into and submerging into cold water, you can almost expect a good mood to follow.

In short, cold water can help you to wash away the blues!

4.      Reduces symptoms of depression

Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental disorders we face here in the US — and it affects millions of people globally. And, guess what? Cold water therapy has been found to be an effective treatment for both conditions.

As per studies, cold water can help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Additionally, the mental benefits were so amazing that people continued to experience an improvement in their mental health even after they stopped the therapy.

5.      Ease muscle soreness and help with faster recovery

As per a study, athletes who soaked in a cold water pool with a temperature between 12°C to 15°C reported less soreness in muscles as compared to those who had no hydrotherapy after the exercise or a workout session.

According to medical experts, cold water causes your blood vessels to constrict, which helps to ease the pain. Cold water therapy reduces blood flow to a particular area, let’s say when you apply ice to any injury, it reduces inflammation and swelling.

So, athletes who soak in an ice bath after exercise have less muscle soreness and DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) afterward.

What risks are associated with using an ice bath?

Submerging your body into a tub full of cold water comes with various risks as well. Let’s see how:

  • Though cold water can ease muscle soreness, studies show that it may reduce anabolic signaling following the strength training session.
  • Exposure to cold water through an ice bath also comes with the risk of hypothermia (a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it produces).
  • People with cardiovascular conditions are at a higher risk since an ice bath decreases body temperature, constricts blood vessels, and reduces blood flow. This condition makes it harder to pump blood.

Before you go!
Do proper research and check if ice water and an ice bath are right for you or not! You should always speak with your doctor before trying any new strategy or technique to ensure you are healthy enough to do so, and it won’t cause any adverse effects based on any conditions you may be suffering from.

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