For centuries, cold water immersion has been used for relaxation and medicinal purposes as well as for socialization. Also known as cold hydrotherapy, cold water therapy is the practice of using water that is approximately 59°F (15°C) to treat health conditions and/or stimulate health benefits. Cold therapy promotes vasoconstriction or constriction of the blood vessels. When the blood vessels constrict, blood circulation is slowed which in turn reduces redness, swelling, spasms and pain. Cold immersion increases your brain’s production of norepinephrine and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. The skin also houses a high density of your body’s cold receptors, so immersion in cold water sends electrical impulses from your peripheral nerve endings up into the brain. This alleviates symptoms of anxiety and depression and improves alertness, focus, and cognition. With only a few minutes of exposure to icy temperature, cold water therapy can give your health and wellness a boost. When practiced regularly, cold therapy can deliver significant results.
Proper breathing is essential for a positive cold plunge experience. Most people who do not mentally prepare for the shock, end up exhibiting anxious, hyperventilating breathing. Certain breathing techniques can help you adapt quicker where your focus is on deep meaningful breaths. If you are new to cold therapy and ice baths, refer to breathing techniques to make it easier. Other ideas to improve the experience include playing music while in the cold plunge or talking with a friend. For your first few times experiencing the cold plunge, aim to stay in anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. If you begin to shiver, it’s time to get out. Try to submerge your entire body (up to your jawline). This allows the vagus nerve in your neck to become exposed and maximizes anti-inflammatory responses and mood boosting benefits. Slow, steady breathing is essential for your body to appropriately adjust to the cold temperature. Remember, consistency is key to getting the most benefit from your cold plunge experience. Try to plunge at least once or twice a week to give your body and mind the maximum benefit.
Easing into cold water therapy is a good idea. To help prepare your body for your cold plunge sessions, begin by taking cold showers in the days leading up to your session. After your regular shower, turn the water to cold and stand under the water beginning with one minute and working up to two minutes. Another way to prep for the cold plunge experience is to put your face into a bowl of cold water (for about 30 seconds) by using cold tap water or by adding ice cubes. Not only is this an excellent prep for the cold plunge, it also helps soothe your skin, opens up pores, reduces inflammation, and adds hydration.
“The purpose of deep breathing is to induce a ‘hypo metabolic state,’ where autonomic and mental arousal is minimal. It is a resting, restorative state, a counter anxiety, counter stress response of the body induced by using the breathing that goes with relaxation to trigger a similar muscle response in the bod” Robert Fried, Clinical Respiratory Psychophysiologist Your breathing will become your security blanket while in the cold plunge. Before entering the ice bath, take a few purposeful breaths (in and out through the nose), and then enter on an exhale. Work toward 5-8 breaths per minute to activate your parasympathetic nervous system which helps your body and mind relax. Focus on breathing through your nose and quiet your mind. Count your breaths and connect with your body as it regulates your temperature. The Wim Hof method relies on deep and rhythmic inhalations and exhalations: 1. Take in a strong inhalation through the nose. 2. Let out a relaxed exhalation through the mouth. 3. Repeat for 30 breaths. 4. On the 30th breath, exhale to 90 percent and hold for as long as you can. 5. When you feel your body needs to take a breath, inhale fully and hold for 15 seconds before releasing. 6. This basic technique involves three consecutive rounds of the above.
If you have any of the following conditions, cold therapy is not recommended. ● Deep vein thrombosis ● Peripheral vascular disease ● Open wound ● Skin sensation impairment (e.g. some diabetic patients) ● Severe cognitive impairment (e.g. dementia patients) ● Cold allergy