Today was a cold water plunge day. I had heard a rumor: that a newly added dedicated cold water shower had been added to the locker room remodel. Hidden amongst the banks of regular showers, I was shocked (literally) and super excited that a common health practice in much of the world, was available to incorporate into a few times weekly wellness routine.
These plunges- or cold water immersion and cryotherapy (cold air chamber) – or in my case, a shower stall with surround blasting shower heads- are an excellent habit that can promote a sense of mental well-being as well as myriad somatic benefits. And Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple says,
The underlying premise of cold water therapy is that briefly and somewhat regularly exposing the body to certain kinds of natural stresses (like cold water) can enhance health. (1)
Research into cold water therapy seeks to answer several questions about how this adaptation to temperature change can help several ailments- from chronic fatigue to certain cancers. Items such as whether the (cold) shower setting is suitable to the habits of regular dips versus quick bursts and the temperature, are considered. From a primal perspective, what’s important is the habituation process that our body’s have to go through:
it’s all about upregulating our systems, taxing them in a healthy, natural way like intermittent fasting. -Mark Sisson (2)
Amongst the benefits of cold water therapy are increased circulation of:
- the lymphatic system– the cold water causes lymph vessels to contract, thus pumping lymph fluid through the system. The body is cleansed as the circulation carries away waste, bacteria and microbes from cells. According to Tony Robbins, “[this] in turn affects the immune system, which ultimately keeps you feeling happy and healthy.” (3)
- the cardiovascular system– the cold water stimulates blood flow as it does with exercise and diet. With improved circulation, blood flow reduces stress on the heart which improves heart health, enhances mental performance, and boosts the immune system and metabolism.
Other benefits to cold water therapy include:
- Helping with muscle soreness– specifically Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)-by mitigating inflammation and swelling in the muscles and providing relief by numbing the nerve endings. Great for the athlete in us each, or the reminder of hard physical work.
- Promoting a sense of happiness! Cold water triggers a flood of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, creating a sense of well-being and happiness. Research has shown that regular cold showers can help depression symptoms and that months of cold water swimming can help people overall feel more energetic and spritely (I definitely feel differently when not in swimming on a regular basis- even a cold plunge into the pool in the middle of the summer can be shocking- it doesn’t need to be winter).
- Increasing weight loss. Our metabolism gets amped up as our body burns calories to keep us warm. And not only that, it’s all about the fat: the cold impacts the type of fat we produce; it promotes healthy brown fat (the good fat our bodies generate to keep us warm) and helps eliminate white fat (the body fat that piles up around our waistlines and thighs from calorie overload). (4)
What I find interesting is the mental readiness that takes place right before taking the plunge, like winding up a jack-in-the-box- it’s coming and it will be [scary], [shocking], [uncomfortable], amazing afterwards!
Local Houstonians, check into Kold, iCRYO and Glo Sun Spa. I’ve always loved lakes for a cold plunge, and one of my favorites, though a little warmer, is Barton Springs in Austin, TX, at a nice 68 degrees F.
My best plunge? Into the Pacific Ocean at Monterey Bay, CA, which is around mid 50 degrees F. It was just me, bundled up fishermen and a wayward sea otter bobbing nearby. I went numb, but the sense of mental well-being was off the charts.
Is this one of your wellness rituals, are you part of the polar bear club?