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How to get started and best practices

Your complete guide to cold plunging – Cold Corner

Find all the top tips, newest articles and insights related to cold plunging, cold therapy and ice bathing. Discover all the benefits from this column where we bring first hand experience and mix it with science. Whether you want to know how to start cold plunging or you want to enhance  your cold journey even further, this is for you.

What is cold water therapy and why should I know about it?

If you are equally confused about what cold does to your body or what difference water temperature makes, this is a chapter for you!

Reading through the existing research the summary would be – spoiler alert – both hot and cold are good for you. They essentially affect our bodies in opposite ways. Changing between ambient temperatures creates different physiological reactions. 1  So let’s wind the tape back to the very beginning and take this step by step.

Water is the creator of life, so it comes as no surprise that our ancestors used water as a form of medical treatment. Hydrotherapy (the act of using water as a treatment) dates to the ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian times. Some believe it was used even earlier in Asia.2  Regardless, it has been around for a long time and remains relevant today.

Our bodies are perhaps smarter than we give it credit for. As the ambient temperature changes our body tries to maintain a stabilized state. Simply put, if it is cold our bodies try to heat itself up, if it is hot it tries to cool us down. We have all experienced this by sweating and feeling more fatigued when we are in a hot climate or shivering but very awake when we have too little clothes on.

This wasn’t enough for me, so I went a little deeper. In short, hot water decreases blood pressure and increases blood flow especially to limbs and extremities.2  What this means is that now your blood is being distributed all over your body more equally making it possible for it to squeeze in through all those deep muscle tissues and relax your body.

Cold water has the opposite effect. It decreases blood flow and increases blood pressure.2  So why would this be good for us? What happens when we immerse into cold water is that the body goes into “survival mode” and starts pumping blood toward the core and our vital organs. Decreased blood flow alleviates pain and swelling in joints and muscles and therefore are commonly used to treat injuries. 2 Also, studies show that cold water immersion causes a significant increase in dopamine and noradrenaline from the nervous system.3 These help us to cope with feelings of fatigue and sadness and improve our mood, alertness, and memory.3,4

So yes, both are good for you. It is worth mentioning here that especially the various benefits of cold-water immersion are continuously being researched. Saying that, it is good to have a basic understanding of the effects before jumping in headfirst. That way you can best adapt water therapy into your wellness regime in a way that best fits you. I know for me; cold therapy is a must to stay alert on these dark winter days up here in the Nordics where the sun doesn´t shine much at all. But I will never say no to a nice hot bath after a long day either. 🛁

Why not enjoy both?

Disclaimer: This post is reviewing published academic articles and evidence. All information gathered are interpretations and is meant for informative purposes only.

It is advised that if you are suffering from any specific disease, consult your doctor before starting cold water therapy. Being exposed to extreme temperatures for too long adversely affects your health, so caution is recommended.

Articles reviewed in this post:

  1. Mooventhan, A., & Nivethitha, L. (2014). Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body.North American journal of medical sciences6(5), 199–209. https://doi.org/10.4103/1947-2714.132935
  2. Bahadorfar, M. (2014). A Study of Hydrotherapy and Its Health Benefits.International Journal of Research (IJR)1(8), 294–305. Retrieved from https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/document?repid=rep1&type=pdf&doi=b6d4461e45727410dbc19cd76d80f27049e6ee9e
  3. Johnson, D. G., Hayward, J. S., Jacobs, T. P., Collis, M. L., Eckerson, J. D., & Williams, R. H. (1977). Plasma norepinephrine responses of man in cold water.Journal of applied physiology: respiratory, environmental and exercise physiology43(2), 216–220. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1977.43.2.216
  4. Huttunen, P., Kokko, L., & Ylijukuri, V. (2004). Winter swimming improves general well-being.International Journal of Circumpolar Health 63(2), 140–144. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epdf/10.3402/ijch.v63i2.17700?needAccess=true