Cold Plunges…Why?

COLD PLUNGES

brrrr!

If you are into self-care or optimizing your performance then chances are you have heard about cold plunges. Do a Google search and you will get a few million hits to browse through to keep you busy.

I will start off by saying that I love (and hate) cold exposure and have made it a regular part of my routine. I also enjoy the benefits of heat via an infrared sauna and hot tubs/pools. Although both ends of the temperature spectrum have benefits, this article focuses on cold exposure.

 

Have you ever stepped into a frigid cold plunge or shivering cold shower?

No…Why doesn’t it sound so tempting?

The benefits of cold exposure on overall health are no joke. The primary goal is to expose the body to the shock of the sudden drop in temperature which elicits a range of physiological responses including the nervous system’s “fight or flight” reactions.

There is a growing body of scientific research highlighting its positive effects on physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Most research revolves around full-body submersion, but cold showers are purported to have a similar effect. From boosting circulation and improving focus to enhancing mood and recovery, cold exposures offer a range of benefits that could leave you feeling invigorated and slightly proud of your own bravery.

Let’s dive in a little deeper (pun intended)😂

1. Circulation

Research shows that exposing your body to cold water forces blood vessels to constrict and then dilate rapidly. This process is like a workout for your circulatory system, enhancing blood flow, improving cardiovascular health, and reducing inflammation. Think of it like a good old-fashioned flushing and cleaning of the vessels.

2. Mood Elevation

The shock of cold water can stimulate the production of dopamine and norepinephrine which play a role in mood regulation. It does this by activating the “fight or flight” response in your nervous system, Cold water plunges have been shown to increase dopamine 2-2.5 times base levels which is similar to the effect from chocolate and sex, but it lasts up to 3 hours (the other two are shorter-lived). The rise in these happy hormones elevates mood and gives you a sense of accomplishment…in other words, you will be glad you did!

3. Calorie-Burning Chill

When your body is exposed to cold, it expends energy to maintain a stable temperature. Energy expenditure equates to calories burning. So, that cold exposure might help you burn a few extra calories while you bravely embrace and accommodate the chill.

4. Stress Relief

Exposure to cold can trigger the release of endorphins, those natural stress fighters that leave you feeling nice and give you a sense of well-being and relaxation, despite the freezing temperatures. You won’t feel it right away, but hang in there they are coming and worth the discomfort you are exposing yourself to!

5. Recovery

Though the effects in circulation listed above and a reduction in soreness, Cold exposure is a go-to post-workout modality used by many athletes and active people. I personally like to combine cold exposure and hot baths (or saunas). I feel the most benefit from the contrasting temperatures.

6. Immune function

Cold exposure can stimulate the production of white blood cells which play a role in fighting illness and infections. Over time, regular cold exposure can contribute to a more resilient immune system, which means less sickness for you.

 

How to start:

Start off small. The next time you’re in the shower end it with 30 seconds of cold water only then gradually build your duration from there. Next, hop into a cold bath, pool, lake, or ocean. Start slow with gradual decreases in temperature and gradual increases in duration.

Research varies on how long is the best duration and how cold it should be, but they all agree that any exposure at all is beneficial. I personally use 52 to 62 degrees depending on the mode. I may gradually try to go colder, but for now, I am happy with the results.

So, there you have it—cold plunges and showers aren’t just a test of your tolerance for goosebumps. They’re a scientifically proven event filled with health benefits that can leave you feeling refreshed, revived, clear-headed, and proud… and what’s wrong with that?…NOTHING!

 

Disclaimer: As with any health practice, it’s important to consult a medical professional before incorporating something new into your routine, especially if you have existing health conditions.

 

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