5 Benefits of Cold Water Therapy

Coldwater therapy, at least in the context of modern medicine, has been documented since the 1700s, although a few ancient civilizations may also have enjoyed some of its benefits. Whether this practice has been in use for hundreds or thousands of years, it continues to be a popular area of interest for health enthusiasts.

The reasons for using cold water have likely evolved a bit over the centuries, but the process has remained relatively the same: Shock the body with cold water to improve health and wellbeing. The practice might sound barbaric, but it could have several real benefits. Let’s take a look at five possible benefits here but be aware that some people should not pursue this therapy and the determination of who might be a good candidate should be determined by a physician as there may be some dangers in the practice for those with underlying or preexisting conditions.

But once cleared by a doc, here are some possible benefits:

1. May Speed Athletic Recovery

Immersion in cold water may improve performance and recovery time following intense exercise. Athletes may notice a reduction in the length and extent of muscle pain and discomfort by soaking in cold water for about 14-minutes after working out. They may even be able to improve their response by moving between cold and hot baths. Hot water on its own doesn’t appear to have the same muscle healing effects.

2. May Improve Immune Responses

Coldwater therapy could have significant effects on the immune system. Research into its benefits in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) shows regular cold water immersion reduces the frequency of lung infections. Other studies point toward the practice improving immune activity against non-lymphoid cancers. This is definitely an area where a doctor needs to be consulted but the research is promising.

3. May Reduce Headaches

Some types of headaches, such as migraines, might result from abnormalities in blood flow. Blood vessel constriction, along with reduced blood flow to the extremities, may alleviate some or all headache pain in these cases. Cold compresses may also be helpful. But as with the above, speaking to a doctor is the best bet — they're likely to have access to the latest research and can guide patients in how to best apply it to their personal needs. 

4. Improves Blood Flow

Though we urge extreme caution and physician consultation before attempting anything, people with mild chronic heart failure might improve their quality of life by alternating between cold and warm baths as a way of improving circulation. The combination of temperature extremes can reduce blood pressure and resting heart rate, improving overall functioning. But of course, it's important to seek medical supervision when dealing with any kind of heart problem so please talk to a doctor first, but know there is some promising research that may help guide those who are interested in bringing it up with their physician.

Relatedly, cold water may also reduce the appearance and effects of varicose veins. The cold temperature constricts surface blood vessels, which reduces pooling. It can also offer relief from some of the pain often associated with the condition.

5. May Improve Mental Health

A vast area of study in cold water therapy involves its possible applications for depression and other mental health conditions. In one limited study, participants eased into cold showers (approximately 68 degrees Fahrenheit) lasting 2-3 minutes. In this case, one or two cold showers every day improved depression symptoms significantly.

Other research has found the practice could help alleviate symptoms of psychosis. Some experts have even compared the effects of cold showers to the sedating impacts of electroshock therapy. These benefits could result from sensory nerves “crowding out” the offending pathways, the cold water stimulation taking the forefront to patients’ emotional triggers and reactions.

Cold water therapy could be a good addition, or even an alternative, to treatments for numerous health conditions under the right circumstances and with the right medical supervision. More research is necessary in many of these areas, but it could be an option where traditional therapies fall short or as a breakthrough therapy in some cases. In all cases check in with a doctor, but maybe next year is your year to try the polar bear plunge to get started? Or have you done it already? How'd it go?

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5/12/2021 7:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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