January 1st is often met with people ‘bearing’ it all by taking a jump into freezing waters for the polar bear plunge, but many are prolonging the tradition and adding plunges into their daily lives.
While hydrotherapy and cryotherapy (cold therepy) have been around for centuries, cold therapy has recently regained popularity, with many people converting bins and chest freezers into at-home personal cryotherapy chambers.
The physical science of cryrotherapy is that it manipulates the circulation of the body; cold temperatures constrict the vessels and warmth opens them. Exposing the body to the drastic temperatures creates a pump system to increase circulation by flushing the vessels and improving lymphatic drainage and overall circulation.
Then there is the mind over matter experience. It is hard to force your body to get cold and stay cold for a prolonged period, let alone placing your full body in 10-degree temperatures. The cold triggers a parasympathetic response in the nervous system—the part that is responsible for automatic processes that keep us alive like breathing and digestion, while balancing and calming us down during stressful situations. Many find the experience meditative and by training the body to ignore external stimuli with breath work, they find a positive impact on mental health.
Recovery and Pain
The constriction of blood vessels in sore, damaged or recently exercised muscles helps to reduce swelling, and numbs nerve endings, which can bring pain relief. While the limbs are cooling, blood is pushed to the body’s core, causing the heart to work more efficiently, supplying the vital organs with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood which then rushes to the limbs. This increases healing and mobility of joints and muscles.
Cold water stimulates white blood cell production, increasing the body’s ability to fight off infection and illness. The drop in core temperature stimulates leukocytes, the white blood cells that help fight off sicknesses. It also causes the lymphatic system to contract, forcing fluid circulation and detoxification.
Mood Boosting and Stress Relief
While a quick cold shower gives you a boost of energy, research shows that prolonged and regular exposure to cold can help treat symptoms of depression and anxiety. Cold stimulates a flood of mood-boosting neurotransmitters that make you feel happier, and increase mental focus and overall motivation. The more often it is done, the better you feel.
The vagus nerve is a large part of the parasympathetic nervous system. If it’s not functioning properly, you may experience conditions like anxiety, stress and poor sleep. The cold plunge causes the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing relaxation. The cold also triggers a melatonin release—all of which improve stress response and sleep.
Ice Plunge at Home
1 Fill the tub
If using your bath tub, more ice will be needed to keep the temperature, which is why many opt for an outside option. Fill the tub halfway with cold water and one to three bags of ice until reaching a temperature between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius.
2 Post bath plan
After your ice bath, you’ll need to dry off and get into warm clothes to bring your body temperature up. Have towels and clothing close by and ready.
3 Wear the right clothing
Clothing is needed to protect your skin and important bits. Athletic wear like tights and t-shirt will do; some wear a sweatshirt and socks.
4 Set an alarm
10 to 15 minutes is the maximum recommended length of time for a full body ice bath. It’s also a great idea to build a 10-minute playlist or find a guided meditation to help keep you focused.
5 Get in
Slowly submerge yourself into the water—feet, legs, and then waist. Entering the water too quickly can shock your system, so it’s best to go slow. Your breath will naturally quicken so it’s important that as you enter, breathe deeply to stay calm and prevent hyperventilating.
Once you’ve adjusted to the water, briefly submerge parts of your upper body. Continue deep rhythmic breathing and try meditating to take your mind off the extreme temperature shift. Soak for up to 15 minutes.
7 Get out and warm up
Exit the bath slowly. Immediately remove your wet clothes, towel dry and put on the warm, dry clothing.
Article was published in The Good Life Magazine