Cold Water Therapy is a health practice that involves periodically immersing yourself in cold-water-based activities. It may include outdoor swimming in lakes or rivers, cold showers and even ice baths. It’s often used by athletes as a way to speed muscle recovery, though it can also be done as a weekly ritual to improve mental and physical performance. It’s not for everyone, however, as it can trigger a cold-shock response that can result in muscle spasms, numbness and even frostbite, especially for those with sensitive skin or heart conditions.
The health benefits of cold water immersion include improved mood, better sleep, stronger immunity, increased muscle recovery and endurance, higher metabolic rate, decreased pain, enhanced fat loss and more. It can even help alleviate depression and anxiety. In one case study, a young woman with chronic depression and anxiety found that swimming in cold open water on a weekly basis improved her symptoms and allowed her to stop taking medication.
The health benefits of cold water therapy are largely due to the effect that it has on blood circulation. As explained in this PubMed research study, when the body is submerged in cold water, it causes a series of responses, including peripheral vasoconstriction and then subsequent vasodilation. This results in a pumping effect that increases blood flow to the core, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues and organs. It can also reduce swelling and promote healing.