Myth or Reality: Cold Showers and Ice Baths Are Beneficial For Health

It’s becoming increasingly common nowadays for people to submerge themselves in freezing cold water to avail its purported health benefits. Let’s find out if the belief that cold showers and ice baths are beneficial for health is a myth or reality.
Myth or Reality: Cold Showers and Ice Baths Are Beneficial For Health
Myth or Reality: Cold Showers and Ice Baths Are Beneficial For Health

Myth or Reality: Cold water immersion therapy, the scientific term for taking freezing cold showers and ice baths, has become a popular health trend lately. 

Actors, bodybuilders, and renowned athletes are actively engaging in the exercise and flaunting its many health benefits. “Cold shower a day, keeps the doctor away” is the new saying nowadays.

Cold showers have been linked to a variety of health benefits, ranging from reducing recovery time and increasing immunity to curing depression. Today, we check the validity of the perceived health benefits of cold showers and ice baths.

Read on to find out if the notion that cold showers and ice baths are beneficial for health is a myth or reality.

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What Are Cold Showers And Ice Baths, And How To Take Them?

The use of ice to heal is as old as civilization. Ice is known to preserve food, reduce body swelling, and cool the surroundings. Hydrotherapy (comprising both cold and hot water) has been used in India, Egypt, China, and many other cultures for naturopathic treatment. But for now, we’ll focus only on using cold water to improve health.

Taking a bath or shower, or simply submerging yourself in the water below the temperature of 70°F (21°C) constitutes a form of therapeutic exercise called cold water immersion (CWI) or cold hydrotherapy.

There are many ways to practice cold therapy, like taking cold showers, ice baths, winter swimming, or simply general cold exposure. This becomes challenging for people living in tropical countries or in the summer. Cryotherapy chambers and cold saunas have come into action in such places.

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Benefits Of Cold Showers And Ice Baths

  • Reduces inflammation in the body: Cold showers and ice baths reduce inflammation in the body and provide relief in conditions like arthritis, rheumatism, sore joints, fibromyalgia or asthma.
  • Increases endorphins: The sudden stress of low-temperature exposure acts as a jolt to the nervous system, which results in the injection of endorphins, also called happiness hormones, into the bloodstream. This results in increased alertness, calmness, energy levels, and better sleep.
  • Boosts recovery: Cold showers and ice baths are most common among athletes as they aid in recovery and healing. A cold shower after an intense exercise session improves blood circulation in the body, reduces inflammation, and prevents delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
  • Boosts immune system: Scientific studies have found that taking a cold shower increases the white blood cell count in the body. WBCs are responsible for fighting infections. Regular cold showers elevate the concentrations of WBC in the blood and increase the metabolic rate, resulting in a strong immune system.

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What Is The Science Behind The Benefits Of Cold Showers And Ice Baths?

Stress is the main factor behind the success of cold showers and ice baths. Putting the body under the sudden stress of low temperatures activates the fight or flight response. It is marked by dilated pupils, elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, and trembling.

Hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, testosterone, endorphins, and dopamine are injected into the blood stream. Regular release of these hormones works wonders towards improving alertness, recovery, immune system and mood.

Plus, taking cold showers and ice baths maintain high levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in the body for longer periods of time compared to other similar activities like walking, exercising, laughing or intercourse.

Bottomline

Based on numerous scientific studies and the satisfaction of their partakers, it can be concluded that the view that cold showers and ice baths are beneficial for health is a reality.

A cold shower puts the body under sudden, immense stress, activating the fight or flight mode. Hormones like adrenaline, testosterone, endorphins, and dopamine—all proven mood boosters and potent stimulants—are released into the bloodstream, resulting in increased alertness, better recovery, a strong immune system, and an improved mood.

As such, an individual becomes more productive, happier, and healthier. However, cold showers and ice baths aren’t a cure-all for all diseases. People with weak cardiovascular systems and breathing issues should stay away from taking cold showers.

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References:

Winter swimming improves general well-being - PubMed (nih.gov)

Immune system of cold-exposed and cold-adapted humans - PubMed (nih.gov)

Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures - PubMed (nih.gov)

Health: What are the benefits of taking a cold shower? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

FAQ

What is a cold shower?

A cold shower is a type of hydrotherapy which involves full body immersion under chilly (less than 21°C) water for brief periods.

What is the difference between an ice bath and a cold shower?

An ice bath involves the use of much colder water (<15°C) and is often achieved by taking a dip in a tub full of ice or frozen water bodies. A cold shower can be taken anywhere, as long as the water is cold enough to generate a stress response.

Can we take cold showers in winter?

Yes, winter is the optimal time to take cold showers. In summer, especially in tropical regions, it’s hard to achieve a low temperature of the water which defeats the purpose of the exercise. But in winter, cold showers and ice baths offer many health benefits.

What are the benefits of cold showers and ice baths?

There are many proven health benefits of taking regular cold showers or ice baths. The exercise boosts immunity, aids in muscle recovery in athletes, improves skin and hair health, elevates mood, helps cure depression and reduces inflammation in the body.

Who shouldn’t take cold showers?

People with heart ailments, weak cardiovascular symptoms or respiratory systems and high blood pressure shouldn’t take cold showers or ice baths. People already suffering from a sickness like the common cold or fever should also refrain from indulging in cold showers.
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