You may have noticed an increase in social media posts showing people plunging into cold water. Yes, believe it or not, there are some people who actually enjoy immersing their bodies (in water that’s less than 15°C) into an ice bath, taking a freezing cold shower or having an outdoor swim.
Cold water therapy was one of the top new wellness trend of 2022, and although it has often been used by athletes to treat muscle soreness and promote faster recovery, its popularity rose when Dutch fitness influencer, Wim “The Iceman” Hof started promoting extreme ice swimming (in water that’s no more than 5°C), more than a decade ago. The ‘Wim Hof’ method combines cold therapy, breathing techniques and mind exercises with the aim to get your body and mind into the best possible condition.
So what are the benefits of cold water therapy?
According to a study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, cold showers have many physiological effects on the body. These include: increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and an elevated respiratory rate.
Numerous studies have shown that cold water immersion can help reduce muscle pain and stiffness after exercise by reducing swelling and inflammation, improve risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as boosting immune systems and easing bouts of depression. It can also help ease the pain associated with arthritis, not only as a natural long-term remedy, but it can also offer instant pain relief.
Mental Health Swims, a non-profit charity, organizes cold-water swimming throughout the UK with more than 150 swim locations. Open water swimming is getting more popular and in a case study published by the BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed medical trade journal, it supports the use of cold water swimming as a depression treatment. Another study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that people had a lower risk of developing upper respiratory tract infections if they used cold therapy.
At a time when energy costs are rising, cold water baths and showers are a cost cutting and effective way to save money. Rather than resorting to medication to boost your mood, cold water therapy can be undertaken in your own home, with no side effects. Start slowly and gradually build up your exposure.
But beware! Cold water therapy can be a shock to the system, even for people who use it regularly, so it is best to start by having a few cold showers in the days leading up to your first full immersion. If you have never tried cold water therapy before, begin by having a shower in warm water, then turn it on to cold and stand under the water for one minute, increasing to two minutes the next time you shower and eventually try having a cold shower without starting with the warm water.
Remember to proceed with caution and maybe check with your GP or doctor first if you suffer with a heart condition or any other serious medical illness, such as diabetes.