Winter is coming and most of us prefer to stay out of cold, in our warm cosy blankets or near the fireplace. But did you know that cold is actually good for your immunity? Enjoying an ice bath or taking a cold shower can increase the amounts of white cells in your body, protecting you from all sorts of diseases.
How does cold water stimulate the immune response? We’ll explain.
Benefits of cold-water immersion
Remember those athletes who are using cold water immersion after intense training to speed up recovery? They have good reasons to do that and you might as well. Let’s see what are the main reasons you should try ice water baths.
It reduces stress:
Exposing your body to cold temperatures can help you feel more energetic and happier. A cold shower can generate a series of hormonal reactions that reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and trigger endorphins and noradrenaline (the feel good hormones) in the brain. This electric shock provides a great effect in your body that can treat anxiety and depression. More than this, by increasing blood circulation to the brain and your vital organs, you can help your body feel more relaxed and energised while the circulation of oxygen supports the detoxification process of your entire organism. Cool, isn’t it?
It boosts your immune system:
Studies have shown that if you’re doing cold immersion at least two times a week, your immune system might improve, since the cold temperatures can contract your lymph vessels. This contraction will pump fluids through your body and flush all the toxins and microbes out. Aside this fact, cold immersion can prevent illnesses by triggering a fight or flight response that enhances your natural defences.
It can reverse inflammation:
One of the main reasons athletes prefer ice baths is because this therapy method can help them recover after intense workouts. Their swollen muscles and their torn muscle fibres need relief, and cold water actually activates their body’s healing power. How does this happen? It reduces the inflammation and muscle soreness or stiffness by inducing a degree of shock in the body that brings instant relief.
It stimulates weight loss:
It’s true that when we’re exposed to cold weather, our fat deposits can keep us warm by releasing energy as heat, but that extra layer of fat can also lead to obesity. When we’re emerging in ice cold water, the good/brown fat is activated and the body begins to burn calories, helping you shed some pounds. In the same time, cold water speeds up the metabolism because your body needs to work harder in order to feel warm.
It improves circulation:
If you don’t manage to wake up properly in the morning, a cold shower might help. Even if it might feel hard to wash with cold water, by doing this you can increase the circulation in your body, triggering a breathing reaction that it’s deeper than usually and can fight off fatigue.
Four stages of cold-water immersion
There are 4 important stages of cold-water immersion.
- Your body enters a state of shock
The cold shock that usually occurs in the first 5 minutes of immersion can determine sudden changes in your body, such as changes in heart rate, heart rhythm and blood pressure. These changes can also cause involuntary gasping, panic, hyperventilation and vertigo. Your breathing is affected and in case you inhale water it can lead to drowning.
- Short-term swim failure
After 3-30 minutes following the immersion (depending on how cold the water is), the muscles in your body begin to cool, reducing the speed movements of your body by 60-80%. During this phase you might lose manual dexterity, grip strength, not being able to swim or to keep your body above. Death can occur by drowning.
After 30 minutes of immersion, hypothermia installs (depending on your body type, the cloths you’re wearing and your behaviour in water). You will lose about 25% of your body heat and your organs will begin to cool down. This leads to loss of consciousness and death.
- Post immersion
Once you’ve been rescued, you’re still in danger in case the water you inhaled damages your lungs or your arterial blood pressure leads to cardiac arrest. Once rescue is imminent, mental relaxation occurs, decreasing the stress hormones that are fighting to keep you alive.
So, cold-water immersion can be a doubled-edged sword if you’re not warn about its dangers. As we’ve previously seen, the body’s physiological response to cold water can be precursors to the loss of your swim capacity, sudden heart attack, hypothermia and drowning.
However, the sudden loss of control and the likelihood of not being able to breath doesn’t happen if you’re just having a cold dip that stimulates your body.
DON’T WORRY. All of these stages won’t happen if you are doing a cold-water immersion therapy at home, that usually doesn’t last more than 10 minutes. More likely, the cold shower or bath will make you feel ALIVE!
How to do cold water immersion at home?
Well, fill your bath tub with cold water, add several trays of ice cubes, set the timer and immerse! If, on the other hand you want to apply this procedure to some of your body parts, it’s OK to ice pack the areas with problems or to dip them into a bucket filled with ice water.
Tips for your cold-water immersion
To avoid the dangers we were talking about, you need to talk about the ideal conditions of taking a cold-water immersion at home:
Timing is everything:
To avoid hypothermia, make sure you don’t stay in your ice bath more than 10 minutes. Listen to your body and when it says enough, understand you need to go out.
Check the temp:
Make sure the temperature is about 11°C.
Mind over coldness:
Try to relax your mind and encourage yourself to enjoy the process.
Submerging your body in ice cold water is not easy if you’re doing it for the first time, but if you are practising cold water immersion a couple of times per week or after every workout, your body can adapt to longer periods of time and colder temperatures.
Other methods of cold immersion therapy
You can also get relief after muscle soreness using a bag of frozen peas out of your freezer, taking a cold shower or finding a pool to dive in. Just don’t be scared and try to keep in mind all the aspects we talked above and you will feel the reward in no time.