Medically Reviewed By | Johannah Gregg, DNP FNP-C
Many people recoil at willingly taking a dip in freezing cold water. While it may not seem the most fun thing to do, fitness warriors and top athletes are constantly doing it, whether it be post-workout or on their off days.
This isn’t just to prove how tough they are. Research has shown that different forms of cold therapy, including a simple ice bath, have many benefits for the body. This tool is not just for the US Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team, though, as many people are now catching on.
Everyone can harness the therapeutic powers of the cold.
What Is an Ice Bath?
An ice bath is a short, controlled exposure to very low-temperature water. You can submerge a single or multiple body parts, or your entire body, usually up to the neck.
How Do I Take an Ice Bath?
To make an ice bath, start filling up a bathtub to about the three-quarter point. Then mix a few bags of commercial ice into the water until it is high enough to get in. You can follow this same formula on a smaller scale with bowls or containers if you’re just doing a part of your body.
The temperature of the water should be between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit — anything lower than this could be potentially dangerous. A good method with cold therapy is to ease into it — if you can’t tolerate water this cold at first, start a little warmer and gradually drop the temperature each time.
You shouldn’t stay in an ice bath for more than 15 minutes. The health benefits start to plateau after this time, and they could also be dangerous. The longer you keep your core body temp lowered, the more you risk hypothermia and frostbite.
When Should I Take an Ice Bath?
The main way people utilize ice baths is right after a tough workout, competition, game, or run. This is when your core body temperature is highest, and your muscle soreness begins to set in. Some of the benefits on this list only apply to taking ice baths post-activity.
Another time you can take an ice bath or a cold shower is first thing in the warning. It’ll still do a lot of good for your body and will wake you up fast!
Who Shouldn’t Practice Cold Therapy?
Before we get into the specifics of ice baths, some health conditions make them unsafe. If you fall into any of these categories, avoid cold therapy or talk to a doctor before trying it.
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 1 or 2 diabetes
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Any condition that affects your ability to regulate body temperature
What Are the Benefits of Ice Baths?
Here are 10 ways ice baths can improve your health:
1. Helps With Soreness/Recovery
Cold exposure can support oxygenated blood flow. More oxygen to your muscles means a faster recovery, and an easier recovery means less soreness.
This is due to a “rebound” effect — the low temperature temporarily constricts your blood vessels, and when you get out, they dilate back up, sending blood to the extremities around the body.
2. Improves Circulation
In the presence of cold, your body has to adapt in many ways. One thing it must figure out is how to redirect the blood supply to keep your vital organs warm and functioning.
Your heart needs to pump harder and more efficiently to distribute resources around the body where they need to go. This improves your overall circulatory health.
3. Brings Down Core Body Temperature
After intense physical activity, your core body temperature rises. You’ve probably broken a sweat as well — this is your body naturally trying to cool itself off. Quickly support this process with an ice bath; your core body temperature will return to normal in about five minutes.
4. Soothes Stress
Getting into freezing water is a bit stressful. Low-grade, controlled stimulation of your stress response is actually good for your nervous system; it strengthens your stress response and makes it more resilient to outside stressors.
The cold water also stimulates a large nerve in your body called the Vagus nerve. This nerve activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your autonomic nervous system that controls “rest and digest.”
5. Boosts Energy Levels
Your body will make new hormones to cope with the jolt of the cold, one of them being norepinephrine. This hormone plays a part in regulating your attention, focus, alertness, and overall energy.
6. Aids Immune Function
Full-body ice baths increase the concentration of an antioxidant called glutathione in your body. Glutathione is closely associated with constructing, repairing, and protecting cells that make up your immune system.
7. Burns Fat
Cold exposure has been shown to increase your body’s metabolic rate and induce the generation of “brown fat.” This substance produces heat to keep your body warm, burning calories in the process.
Johannah Greg, DNP FNP-C and medical contributor for Incrediwear adds, “Immersion in cold water can increase production of the protein adiponectin, and adiponectin plays a role in protecting agains insulin resistance.”
8. Higher Sleep Quality
This may take a few months of ice baths to kick in, but when your nervous system is functioning more smoothly, it is easier to fall asleep at night and stay asleep. This benefit is more anecdotal, but many people report sleeping better after ice baths.
9. Gives You Willpower
Deliberately putting yourself in uncomfortable yet manageable states can greatly impact your mental toughness and fortitude. You may find yourself more equipped to handle or tackle other challenging situations.
A bonus is you will be able to handle fluctuations in temperature better. Have a training day outside in January? No problem!
10. Uplifts Your Mood
Not only will you leave the bath feeling like you can take on anything the rest of the day can throw at you, but you will have just gotten a biological boost too. When we exercise, the brain releases endorphins which reduce our perception of pain and elevate our mood.
Your body reacts the same way to cold exposure, and you get the same flood of feel-good chemicals in your system.
In addition to taking ice baths, there are other tools you can use to compound your fitness gains.
Athletes most often utilize ice baths for workout recovery and post-game recovery. To further speed up your recovery and continue healing outside the tub, check out all of the innovative sleeves and braces from Incrediwear.
How Does Incrediwear Support Recovery?
The ultra-flexible, ultra-breathable sleeves and braces that make up Incrediwear products are embedded with a specific type of semiconductor. When the heat from your skin touches the fabric, the semiconductors are activated, releasing negative ions into the body. These ions vibrate tissues on a cellular level, supporting the natural healing process.
Whereas a traditional compression garment would restrict blood flow, Incrediwear increases blood flow and speed to the target area, flushing the tissue with much-needed oxygen and nutrients after a hard workout.
How Do I Use Incrediwear?
Incrediwear is most effective when it is utilized during periods of rest, whether post-workout, post-surgery, post-injury, or on off days, while implementing active or passive recovery.
It’s super light-weight, low profile, and soft against your skin — you can wear it underneath clothes and even wear it to bed to continue healing overnight.
In addition, Incrediwear can be worn during physical activity, providing functional support and leaving you with your full range of motion.
Ice baths may seem like an extreme measure only suited for top-level athletes. The reality is, however, that they have many benefits that can (with a little bit of bravery) be harnessed by everyone. While cold exposure is generally safe, use caution if you have any underlying conditions.
If you want to boost the effects of ice baths, slide on a piece of science-backed Incrediwear when you emerge from the cold and continue the healing.