Cold Water Therapy is a wellness practice that’s become popular with athletes and everyday people who want to improve their fitness, mental clarity, and stress resilience. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to switch between hot and cold showers, or jumping into a lake, river, or tub filled with ice. It’s also a common component of mindset and wellness retreats around the world.
Physiologically, immersion in cold water triggers a series of responses that help the body adapt to the temperature change. First, the blood vessels near the skin constrict, which helps conserve heat and minimizes evaporation of fluids from the surface of the skin. Secondly, the brain activates a “diving reflex,” which leads to sinus bradycardia, peripheral vasoconstriction, and inhibition of respiratory neurons. This allows the body to redirect the flow of blood to vital organs and muscles to keep them functioning properly.
Another benefit of cold water immersion is that it decreases muscle swelling by lowering the temperature of the affected tissues. It also helps reduce soreness by reducing the breakdown of muscles that happens after exertion. In fact, a study published in 2020 found that athletes who regularly immersed themselves in cold water experienced faster muscle recovery than their counterparts who didn’t.
The practice of taking cold plunges can even improve your mood by increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in our overall sense of wellbeing. In one study, participants who took a daily cold water immersion bath for several months reported less depression symptoms.