Some of you may have seen my ice baths on Instagram, (Scroll down for my many faces of cold bath therapy) many have asked what the hell are you doing?! Well it was a little challenge I set myself, inspired by my own father who cold baths daily and has done for almost a year and is in great health. And also knowing the amazing benefits of cold as a therapy from my years within the holistic and spa world. I was first introduced to cold showers when I was working as a therapist on a raw food detox retreat many years ago and again re introduced when I trained in sports massage, to speed recovery and Vodder Lymphatic drainage training Its been in place in many global spas I have consulted to for detoxification.
So what is cold bath therapy?
Cold water therapy has been used for centuries across the globe, for centuries, many years ago as part of prescribed treatments from doctors! This list of potential treatable conditions is hilarious from nightmares, to rickets, inflammation of the eyes, ‘female complaints’, hysteria, constipation, flatulence, a treatment for the insane! To name just a few
You may have seen Scandinavians and Nodrics sweating it out in saunas then jumping into cold lakes, the alternating hot and cold as a therapy has also been used globally amongst Native American tribes, Russia, Germany, India, Egypt, China and Japan as part of rituals and cleansing.
Cold therapy also called “Hydrotherapy” is basically the external or internal use of water in any of its forms (water, ice, steam) for health promotion or treatment of various conditions with various temperatures, pressure and duration.
Cryotherapy has also grown immensely over the past 8 years within the pro athlete sector and now over spilled into holistic health and facial rejuvenation. Cryotherapy is quite different to cold baths and showers, for a whole body treatment you stand in an enclosed box or chamber, your head might be out of the box, extreme cold air dropping to around -200-300F for around 2 – 4 minutes. There are also some machines within clinics which can use localised cold on body parts and also the face.
The benefits of cold bath therapy
Cold water stimulates the body’s natural healing processes and generally promotes well being, I know it doesn’t feel like it at first, I personally find it can feel quite painful and not forgetting the gasping for air with the initial shock until the body gets used to it. This definitally does ease with practice, it can even provide long-lasting changes to your body’s immune, lymphatic, circulatory and digestive systems that enhance your overall wellbeing, and best of all its absolutely FREE!!
(Firstly some things to be cautious of, if you have an underlying heart condition, high or low blood pressure or have a fever, then cold baths are not for you and best to check with your GP)
Boosting the immune system and keeping it working at its best is something I feel we all could benefit from. There are many ways we can support this, through diet, supplements and lifestyle choices. The immune system is one of our bodies essential functions to maintain health and stave off illness. I know I can write this, however I do love a bit of science and research.
“A study done in 1993 by the Thrombosis Research Institute in England, individuals who took daily cold showers saw an increase in the number of virus fighting white blood cells compared to individuals who took hot showers. Researchers believe that the increased metabolic rate, which results from the body’s attempt to warm itself up, activates the immune system and releases more white blood cells….” Pretty amazing!
Ok, so a little bit of biology first to make it easier to understand….. The lymphatic system is a network of super fine vessels (think strands of silk fine) that run throughout the whole body, helping take away waste fluid, bacteria, and microbes from cells, basically its constantly cleansing your body. The lymphatic system mainly relies on muscle contraction to pump the lymph fluid through the vessels, unlike your blood system which has the heart to pump it round. So if you don’t exercise much or your lymphatic system is overloaded with things like pollution and toxins from your diet (think pesticides, caffene, alcohols etc) it can become sluggish, the lymph fluid stagnates and toxins build up.
The Cold causes your lymph vessels to contract, forcing your lymphatic system to pump lymph fluids throughout your body, flushing the waste through. This then triggers the immune system’s white blood cells to attack and destroy any unwanted substance in the fluid. The cold water impacts the lymphatic system, which in turn affects the immune system, which ultimately keeps you feeling happy and healthy!
Our blood circulation, the cardiovascular system is one of the most essential parts of our overall health and well-being, it really is our life source. If its not working at its best it can lead to so many issues from fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, irritated and dull skin to name just a few. We know diet and fitness are essential to boosting and supporting our blood flow, however cold baths are also amazing.
When you immerse your body in cold water, blood rushes around the body, especially to surround your vital internal organs to keep them warm. Your heart is pumping more efficiently, pushing blood through all your vessels and supplying every part of your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs. When you then move to warm water the blood flow moves more towards the surface of the skin, stimulating the blood flow in this way helps to keep you looking and feeling younger.
The impacts mentioned above on the lymphatic system and circulatory system combined have a direct impact on reducing inflammation.
You might not feel this while your still in the cold, however I personally feel a rush of energy after. The lymphatic system as mentioned above has been boosting a good clear out, your blood flow as been stimulated so the heart has been pumping, nerve endings in the skin have week woken up, muscles constructed, adrenaline released, the list goes on, and all of these natural body process as a result make you feel super energised.
As a slight addition to this, I was cold swimming in the sea in the south of Spain last year, in the water for quite a while with arms and limbs constantly moving, because the body is working at such a pace I did find after each swim and the immediate rush of energy, a need to nap as the body needs to recover, so I did sleep like a baby.
So there are a number of reasons why I believe this to be the case, firstly there is the totally putting yourself out of your comfort zone, no it doesn’t feel nice and it’s a huge challenge getting your feet in let alone your whole body. I think this can have a knock on effect to other emotional areas of your life .
There is also the science side of things, cold shows can raise the levels of mood-regulating and painkilling chemicals in the brain and blood activating the sympathetic nervous system. And some studies showing cold showers can stimulate the brains primary source of “noradrenaline, a chemical that can support with easing depression and endorphins, the happy hormones.
Cold therapy is now common place within elite sports, its well documented that cold baths / showers / cryotherapy after working out instead of hot baths is scientifically proven to speed the rate of recover and reduced the possibility of injury. Cold lowers the tissue’s temperature and constricts the blood vessels. This helps reduce any swelling and inflammation and even numbs the nerve endings, speeding recovery time. SO after that run or spin class, jump in the cold not hot.
Cold water increases the body’s metabolism (its ability to burn energy) because it has to work harder to maintain a stable temperature, so some people will use it as an aid to weight loss.
SO… take it slowly, start with a shorted time, just 1-2 minutes is great, I personally found 5-6 minutes was a good time and I know others build up to more. I ran the bath fully on cold which makes the temperature around 18 – 19 degrees, which doest sound all that cold but believe me it is. And you do need quite a deep bath to try to allow your whole body to be able to get under the water.
Some tips I received from my followers on cold bath therapy which I personally found really helpful ……..
You might also like to have a look at Wim Hoff, the ice man for further inspo.
You can also follow me on instagram for more cold bath therapy and lots more health and life experiences.