Cold Water Therapy – is it worth it?
What exactly is cold water therapy?
Cold water therapy, also known as cryotherapy, is a practice that involves exposing the body to cold temperatures for short periods of time. This can be done in several ways, such as taking an ice bath, showering with cold water, or immersing oneself in a cold pool or lake. Cold water therapy has been used for centuries for various health benefits, and in recent years has gained popularity in the fitness and sports communities.
Are there any benefits?
One of the most well-known benefits of cold water therapy is its ability to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. This is because cold temperatures can constrict blood vessels, which decreases blood flow to the affected area and reduces inflammation. This can be particularly beneficial for athletes and individuals who engage in regular physical activity, as it can help to speed up recovery time and reduce the risk of injury.
Cold water therapy may also have a positive impact on mental toughness and resilience. Cold temperatures can cause the body to release endorphins, which are chemicals that can relieve pain and improve mood. Additionally, exposure to cold temperatures can increase the body’s ability to adapt to stress by decreasing cortisol levels, which can help to improve overall mental health and well-being.
By decreasing cortisol levels in the body, cold water therapy is also believed to improve immune functions as high cortisol levels are closely linked to a compromised immune system. Studies have also shown that repeated cryotherapy sessions lead to increased white blood cell counts, especially lymphocytes and monocytes, which are involved in the body’s main defence mechanisms against infections.
Another potential benefit of cold water bath is its ability to improve blood circulation. Exposure to cold temperatures stimulates sympathetic activity, which leads to increased blood flow to the heart and improved cardiovascular health.
What are the drawbacks?
While there are many potential benefits of cold water therapy, it is important to note that not all studies have found consistent benefits. Some people may be more sensitive to cold temperatures and may experience negative effects such as shivering, cold water shock, arrhythmias (heart rhythm disorders), or hypothermia, when the core temperature of our body gets too cold. Therefore, it is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any new therapy regimen. Building up sessions overtime is also recommended to avoid cold water shock. It’s also worth noting that cold water immersion should be done in a controlled and safe environment, with proper equipment, and with the guidance of trained professionals. Cold water bath is not recommended for people who are pregnant, have heart problems, asthma, or have chronic medical conditions.
If you want to try cold water therapy, you can start with having a cold shower – gradually reduce the temperature, slowly increasing the length of time you stay in the cold water to adapt to this. You could then try cold water swimming, perhaps starting in the summer months, building up the time in the water slowly. Again, we would recommend consulting a healthcare professional before trying any of these methods.
Cold water therapy has many potential benefits for overall health, including reducing muscle soreness and inflammation, boosting immunity, improving circulation and recovery after exercise, and increasing mental toughness and resilience. However, it is important to note that not all studies have found consistent benefits and more research is needed to fully understand the effects of cold water bath. Additionally, cold water immersion should be done in a controlled and safe environment with proper equipment, with the guidance of a healthcare professional.
By Reema Patel, Registered Dietitian