Cold water immersion – whether in a tub, shower or body of water – has become a popular well-being activity for people around the world.
A cold plunge, involves sitting in a tub or open water that’s typically 39 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This practice has roots in different cultures. In Denmark, many people say the cold water invigorates the senses, reduces stress and heightens feelings of happiness.
While more research is needed on its health benefits, a review of published information* states that spending about 10 to 15 minutes in cold water promotes relaxation and sleep, muscle recovery, and increased blood circulation and metabolism while reducing muscle soreness, inflammation and swelling.
Some of the literature** states that a mere 30-second to three-minute cold shower could improve mood, increase heart rate, boost metabolism and alleviate muscle soreness. Taking a cold shower activates the sympathetic nervous system, releasing the stress hormones norepinephrine, cortisol and adrenaline. Repeated exposure will allow the body to build a tolerance to stress.
In one small study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, cyclists who spent 10 minutes soaking in cold water experienced reduced muscle soreness and were able to train longer. Others claimed feelings of rejuvenation, improved focus, reduced fatigue, tension and pain relief after cold water immersion.
Despite the recent social media trend of people immersing themselves in icy waters, there are known risks associated with cold water exposure, including frostbite, hypothermia, drowning, and heart and lung issues, and death which are often related to the shock from the cold. Before you take the plunge, talk to your doctor.
Sources: Frontiers in Sports and Active Living*, North American Journal of Medical Sciences*, Plunge*, International Journal of Circumpolar Health*, PLOS One** and European Journal Applied Physiology, 2012
Learn more about the benefits of a cold water plunge in this Blue Cross Virtual Well-Being℠ webinar, Brrr! Take a Cold Plunge with Cindy and Marissa. You can also sign up for future employer- or individual-focused webinars and guided meditations here.
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