Cold Water Immersion (CWI) is a form of cold water therapy, which improves the natural recovery process of the human body. A well-known type of Cold Water Immersion is taking ice baths or cold showers. Cold Water Immersion is a great way to activate the body’s natural healing powers and to make it able to relieve symptoms of various medical conditions. When practised on a regular basis, the positive effects of exposure to cold last even longer. Over time, Cold Water Immersion improves your cardiovascular circulation, reduces muscle inflammation and facilitates weight loss.

5 Benefits of Cold Water Immersion

1. Enhanced circulation of blood

Cardiovascular circulation is one of the most important processes of the human body. Without  healthy and strong circulation, the blood flow of the entire body gets compromised. The compromised blood flow in turn leads to a stressed heart. Left untreated, a stressed heart can result in headaches, high blood pressure, fatigue, muscle cramping, or eventually a heart attack. Cold Water Immersion boosts cardiovascular circulation, which is beneficial for a healthy heart, a strong immune system, well-balanced mental health, and a high level of energy.

2. Reduced inflammation of muscle

After participating in a high-intensity workout, the muscles can feel sore for a couple of days. This is because of microscopic tears in the fibres of the trained muscles, and inflammation of the muscle tissue. This type of soreness, also known as ‘delayed onset muscle soreness’ (DOMS), can be very painful. Scientifically, it has been proven that Cold Water Immersion helps to reduce muscle inflammation. The temperature of the water lowers the damage of the affected tissue and reduces further swelling.

3. Weight loss

Cold Water Immersion can be of great help when it comes to weight loss. When practised on a regular basis, Cold Water Immersion is able to increase the metabolic rate by as much as 16%. As a result of immersing the body in cold water, the body has to work hard to maintain its normal internal temperature. During this process, the metabolic rate increases in order to produce heat for the body. When practised consistently, this can result in a loss of weight.

4. Supports immunity

Some evidence suggests that ice baths support a healthy immune system. In a small study, people who combined cold water immersion, deep breathing and meditation had fewer bacterial infection symptoms than those who did not. But it’s difficult to know just how effective cold water immersion is for your immune system because the study looks at several methods.

5. Improves mental health

Ice baths might be good for your mental health too. A small study found that taking a 20-minute ice bath 4 days a week improved the quality of life in people with gout. They had better joint mobility and less stress, anxiety, and depression. Scientists think that exposing your body to cold water triggers a stress response and activates the nervous system. These changes can improve your mood and help you adapt to stress over time.

How to use cold water therapy

If you want to test the benefits of cold water therapy for yourself, you can try it out in several different ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • Take warm-to-cold showers. Start with warm water and, after a few minutes, gradually drop the temperature.
  • Skip the warmup and go straight to a cold shower. This may be especially helpful if you’ve just finished working out.
  • Immerse yourself in an ice bath: Add ice to water until the temperature is between 50°F and 59°F (10°C and 15°C), and stay submerged for only 10 to 15 minutes. One small 2017 study, however, suggested that ice baths may not be as beneficial as experts had previously believed. 
  • Consider a short swim in colder waters. Be sure to follow the safety tips below:

Safety tips

Talk to your doctor first

Because cold water immersion affects your blood pressure, heart rate, and circulation, it can cause serious cardiac stress.

There have been a number of deaths, both from cold exposure and heart attacks, during open water swim events. Discuss the risks with your doctor and make sure it’s safe for you to immerse yourself in cold water before you try it.

Have an observer with you

Because your reasoning and emotions can be affected by dangerously cold water temperatures, make sure someone is on hand to monitor your condition when you swim, especially in open water.

Be sure to warm up when you get out

Your body temperature could keep dropping even after you get out of the water, increasing your risk of hypothermia.

The Outdoor Swimming Society recommends taking these steps to warm up safely and gradually if you try open water swimming:

  • Immediately put on a hat and gloves.
  • Get out of your wet clothes and dry off.
  • Dress in warm, dry layers, starting with your upper body.
  • Drink a warm beverage.
  • Have a bite to eat — bonus points for something sweet, since sugar elevates your body temperature.
  • Find a warm place to sit down or, if you feel up to it, walk around to raise your body temperature.
  • Avoid taking a hot shower. The sudden change in blood flow could cause you to pass out.

Keep immersions brief

To get the health benefits of cold water therapy, a few minutes may be all you need. Although you can gradually increase your cold tolerance, there’s no therapeutic reason to stay in cold water longer than a few minutes.

The bottom line

Cold water therapy – whether it’s a quick swim in icy surf, a post-workout ice bath, or a brisk shower – can benefit your health in several ways.

It may help you:

  • cut down on muscle soreness
  • cool down after a sweaty workout
  • get into a better mood
  • aid your immune system
  • boost your metabolism

Some advocates say it can also decrease inflammation, improve your sleep, and sharpen your mental focus. But more research needs to be done to determine if these benefits are supported by science.

If you decide to try cold water immersion, talk to your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you.

And if you plan to swim in open water, make sure someone goes with you. Cold water can have profound effects on your circulatory system, and you need to plan for short immersions and gradual warmups afterwards.

For all my readers going on skiing holidays in the Southern Hemisphere, do consider taking a cold water dip!!!

I shall write back to you again upon my return from holidays.

Happy Immersion.