The Benefits of Cold Plunging
Winter is coming. If it’s your favourite season then you’re already anticipating the first time you can hit the ski slopes or strap on your snowshoes. If you see it more as hibernation season, avoiding the cold at all costs, then you’re mostly dreading it. Winter happens every year and it’s not going anywhere. It’s time to embrace the cold in all its forms and dive into the benefits of cold plunging!
What is cold plunging?
You know the scene; a group of enthusiastic people gather on the beach on an early January morning. Keeping on their toques and mitts, they strip off their outer layers and run into the lake for the annual polar bear plunge.
Cold plunging is essentially about reaping the benefits of cold therapy. Professional athletes have been taking advantage of ice baths for years, in which they sit in chilled water after significant physical exertion for a specific time period. Ice bath immersion speeds up recovery and decreases soreness.
After an injury, applying an ice pack causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing swelling and pain. By submerging the entire body in icy cold water, you:
- Cool down multiple muscle groups at one time
- Decrease metabolic activity, which can reduce fatigue
- Block the inflammatory process caused by exercise
- Stimulate the vagus nerve, part of the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing heart rate, relaxing the body, and improving immunity over time
Once you’re out of the bath or the cold pack has been removed, you’re in the warming period. This is because there is a return of fresh blood to the body, flooding the cells with nutrients and oxygen and flushing out waste products.
Do it like Wim Hof
Have you heard of Wim Hof? His nickname, The Iceman, says it all. He is a Dutch motivational speaker, an extreme athlete known for his practice of withstanding cold temperatures, and a Guinness World Record holder for swimming under the ice. He was also the person in that GOOP tv series a few years back leading the group through snow-ga (snow+yoga). Needless to say, he has embraced the cold! People around the globe have tried the Wim Hof Method, a combination of breathwork and cold therapy.
The many benefits of cold plunging include:
Cold exposure increases the secretion of norepinephrine, one of the hormones regulating attention, focus and energy.
Increased resilience and discipline
Through repeated cold sessions your body learns to adapt to the discomfort of temperature fluctuations.
Reduced stress levels
To stay in the water your mind focuses on breath control and becomes more equipped to respond to an overactive sympathetic nervous system, fight or flight.
Speeds up physical recovery
The cold water increases oxygen flow to speed up muscle recovery and reduce soreness.
Stronger immune system
Cold therapy increases the concentration of glutathione, an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage.
Heightened focus and determination
It takes mental strength to get in, and stay in, that icy tub! It will also enhance your sense of accomplishment and well-being.
How to start cold plunging as a beginner
Cold dips have been gaining popularity. Whether it is ending your shower with the water as cold as possible, doing cold-water immersion in freshwater lakes throughout the fall/winter/early-spring season, or visiting a local cold plunge studio, cold plunging is easily accessible if you’re willing to give it a try.
To start with cold water therapy, immerse yourself in a tub of ice water that is between 10 to 15 degrees Celsius, for 5 to 15 minutes after an intense training session. If it helps, focus on your breath while in the tub, relying on that mind-over-matter brain work.
Check with your doctor before trying cold water immersion. We recommend trying it the first few times in a controlled environment with the guidance of trained staff or with an experienced buddy. Check out your local spa, fitness centre, yoga and breathwork studios to see if they offer cold plunges or know of a place that does. Taking the plunge for the first time will be more fun and safer with a buddy who knows what they are doing. Be sure to do it safely, especially in larger bodies of water. Start small, with a minute or so, and add time as you adapt and become more experienced. Try something new this winter; take the plunge!