Cold plunge – what is all the hype + benefits

Cold plunge: What's the hype


What is cold plunge?
How does a cold plunge work?
Catecholamines: The shock proteins
Potential benefits of cold plunging
Tips for taking a cold plunge safely
How to take a cold plunge
Common plunging mistakes
The cold plunge origins
Are there any risks?
Are there any natural alternatives to cold plunging?
Taking the plunge

Have you heard of the icy health trend swarming social media? Taking a cold plunge in a freezing tub seems to be all the rage.

This freezing activity has gained so much traction. Advocates of ice baths assert that there are plenty of benefits associated with it. Various wellness centers even offer it as a treatment.

Are you curious to learn more about this freezing soak? Take a deep dive into the chilly topic of ice baths below.

We’ll unpack the benefits, risks, and origins of this intriguing health trend.

What is a cold plunge?

The phenomenon of cold plunging in water is one part of cryotherapy. Treatments use air and ice which have low temperatures.

It’s one of the ways to engage in cold water therapy. The other two options are contrast water therapy and cold showers.

In previous years, the activity served as a post-workout recovery option for athletes. Recently, more people have engaged in these activities. They do it for the reported benefits of cold plunge therapy.

Many experiment with it as a non-pharmacologic method to treat physical conditions. These ailments range from inflammation to joint pain.

The practice involves immersing yourself in cold water for an allotted time.

How does a cold plunge work?

What happens to your body when you step into a tub of toe-numbing liquid or ice? Your body’s natural reaction is shock.

Initially, you may feel like hyperventilating while you try to adjust. As a reaction, your body aims to increase blood flow and boost your heart rate. After a while, roughly three minutes, you feel calmer. However, there is the risk of hypothermia.

According to advocates for cold plunging, exposure to extreme temperatures puts you under hermetic stress. It occurs with heat or cold.

This type of stress reportedly activates genetic pathways in the body. The result is better tolerance and regulation of daily stress.

Professional athletes take the cold plunge for the reported recovery benefits. Anecdotal data suggests that the practice reduces neopterin levels in sports people. It’s the nucleotide that indicates inflammation.

Cold water immersion causes the blood vessels to constrict. The reason behind this is to preserve heat at the body’s core near the heart.

Blood flow to the extremities like arms and legs slows. The result is a decrease in the natural post-workout Inflammatory response.

Catecholamines: The shock proteins

Exposing the body to cold temperatures boosts the production of catecholamines. One of these is norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter and hormone, with the role of regulating various functions in the body.

The adrenal glands release this hormone. Some of the reported advantages of the icy practice may be due to this shock protein. When your body gets exposed to extreme conditions, norepinephrine gets released.

It then binds to the skin receptors. The result is less blood flow to the skin and conserving heat.
Norepinephrine has other functions. It stabilizes biorhythms and helps with the regulation of glucose levels in the bloodstream and skeletal muscle contraction.

The hormone boosts blood flow to these muscles and has a function in stabilizing moods. It assists with organ function and plays a stimulatory role in several body parts. These include the eyes, pancreas, kidneys, intestines, and lymphoid organs.

Epinephrine is another catecholamine triggered by low temperatures. It is quite similar to norepinephrine, but has more of an effect on the heart.

Potential benefits of cold plunging

The main reason the cold plunge trend has taken off is the reported health benefits. Some of these cryotherapy advantages include:

Improved circulation

Several factors contribute to poor circulation. Making certain lifestyle changes can help combat this. Incorporating a cold plunge into your routine may enhance your chances of success.

Advocates of cold dips believe that the practice can boost circulation. The blood vessels constrict in lower temperatures. Blood flow to the extremities gets restricted. When you get out of the icy conditions, the blood vessels dilate.

The flow then returns to normal when you warm up.

Over time, the opening and closing of these vessels improve their elasticity. In theory, the result is better blood circulation.

Reduced inflammation

One of the most popular benefits is reported anti-inflammatory effects. Research suggests that exposure to the cold could be beneficial. It may reduce the symptoms of inflamed muscles and joints. In turn, this reduces your risk of further injury.

Vasoconstriction is the major role player here. Anecdotal research from 2006 suggests that icy immersion may even decrease muscle spasms.

Pain relief

Vasoconstriction may soothe pain. Research is limited on this benefit, but many report experiencing it. Some individuals claim that cold water immersion helps with chronic conditions.

Available data shows positive signs. It’s especially the case when applied to patients with fibromyalgia. Individuals with asthma appeared to experience less pain after swimming in cold water.

Improved stress tolerance

Scientifically, there’s minimal evidence available to support this claim. However, in 2021, researchers conducted a study as a starting point for cold plunging.

It involved individuals of various age groups from 19–88. Those who swam in the ocean emerged with lower stress levels than those on dry land.

There are reports that after spending a few minutes in icy water, individuals feel calmer. The hermetic stress increases the brain’s sensitivity to endorphins. The combination of these factors may cause higher stress tolerance.

Energy boost

Enjoying a cold plunge could leave you feeling revitalized and more energetic. The treatment may boost your baseline dopamine levels.

This molecule in the brain can affect focus and motivation. Some people believe that brief exposure of 30 seconds to two minutes can have a major impact. The reports state that the dopamine levels remain elevated for 2–5 hours thereafter.

Improved mood

Some claim that submerging yourself in ice H2O can reset your nervous system. It triggers your fight-or-flight response. The body then releases hormones and neurotransmitters.

When the three catecholamines spike, it impacts your mood. Cold plunging is one of the few activities that cause all three hormones to increase.

The blend of dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine helps reset the mind. In this way, the treatment has a positive mental health impact.

Tips for taking a cold plunge safely

If you’re curious about how to take a cold plunge, there are certain guidelines to follow. There are multiple options available, such as:

  • Indoor tubs
  • Outdoor tubs
  • Custom cold plunging tanks
  • Barrels
  • Cold natural bodies of water

Certain spas or wellness centers offer the treatment. Many individuals feel more comfortable in a more professional setting.

The ideal temperature range varies according to studies. Some propose a range of 50–59℉, but others prefer the experience to be even icier. Participants of the trend have even dabbled with temperatures as low as 38℉.

Another important aspect to keep in mind is the duration of the plunge. Some beginners feel comfortable limiting their soak to 30 seconds or 3 minutes. Others prefer to stay submerged for 10–15 minutes.

Veterans of the body-numbing practice may choose to extend their time even more. First-timers should keep their plunge under 15 minutes for safety.

Health professionals advise that those interested start slow. Begin with cool showers. They can use warmer temperatures and slowly adjust them over time.

As a precaution, participants should stay optimally hydrated. Consume fluids before, during, and after the icy soak.

How to take a cold plunge

When you’re ready to try out the trend, fill a tub with cold water. Add ice gradually until you reach a temperature you’re comfortable with. A range of 55–60℉ is a great starting point for beginners.

The next step is deciding on the duration and setting a timer. Set small goals at first and work up to longer periods over time.

Before you dip a toe to test the waters, do some breathwork. Prepare your body and mind for the chilling experience. Take a deep breath and let it out completely when you exhale.

The final step is slowly entering the water. Aim to submerge your whole body up to the neck. Control your breathing. Keep the pace slow and steady.

Common plunging mistakes

There are a few things to avoid when you decide to take a cold plunge. Safety is key, and although the practice is exciting, it’s best to start slow.

Don’t aim for ice when you’re new to the practice. Begin with cool temperatures rather than ice. Give your body time to adapt to the new health treatment. Over time, you might feel ready to try a colder soak.

Limit your time. While veterans may boast about their extended time on the ice, it’s safer to start small. A couple of seconds is fine for a first-timer.

Don’t skip a session. Building a habit requires consistency. Make your icy soak part of your routine.

Breathwork is essential. Don’t breathe too fast once you’re submerged. It may seem natural to hyperventilate, but do your best to control it.

Try not to limit the parts of your body you expose. Aim to soak yourself up to your neck. As you gain experience, you may even feel the urge to wet your face.

The cold plunge origins

The trend of ice baths may seem new, but it’s an ancient practice. It’s been revived thanks to Wim Hof, who is an influential advocate of the cold plunge.

Cold water therapy, however, has a history dating back to 3500 BC. One of the earliest mentions of using icy H2O for therapy is in the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus.

In later years, well-known figures like Plato and Hippocrates mentioned the advantages of hydrotherapy. The therapy prevailed in China and Roman territories.

Over time, various physicians explored the potential of cold water as a treatment. In the 1840s it was prevalent among the affluent who could afford it.

More than a century later, Wim Hof revived the practice on a global scale.

Are there any risks?

Before you take a dip in freezing water, there are some factors to keep in mind.

Immersing yourself in icy temperatures could result in cardiovascular dysfunction.

Cold shock is another possibility. You may find yourself gasping involuntarily as your heart rate spikes. Clouded thinking may occur.

There are more severe risks, like physical incapacitation. It involves the loss of muscular control. One symptom is feeling weak and it may even lead to drowning.

Hypothermia is also a risk. Your body experiences a drastic temperature drop, which could be dangerous. The longer you’re in the water, the higher the risk.

Are there any natural alternatives to cold plunging?

Taking a cold plunge is a natural way to stimulate your body to perform better. You may be curious about alternatives to this treatment that impact you holistically.

Here at LIVV Natural, we have a range of solutions that fit that profile. Getting the full advantage of holistic healing without the risks is what some people prefer.

One of our offerings is naturopathic medicine. It’s the ideal pick if you’re looking to take a thorough analysis into your health. The type of treatment aims to heal you holistically.

Your doctor is sure to provide a listening ear for any concerns. They’ll clarify any information required. They’ll also provide you with multiple options on your wellness journey.

Once you’ve consulted, you receive a targeted personalized treatment plan.

If you’d prefer to target a single health condition, consider our IV options. Whether you’re looking to combat inflammation or fatigue, there’s an offering for you.

Taking the plunge

Now that you know all about icy submerging and alternative holistic therapies, consider visiting a wellness center.

Consult with a professional about your healing goals and your needs. Consider the risks involved and make an informed decision.

At LIVV Natural we believe in holistic health. Book a call today or sign up for a membership. Discover the path to natural healing.

Author: Dr. Jason Phan NMD – Founder of LIVV Natural – Anti-aging – regenerative medicine – peptide therapy