You may be wondering why you’re seeing fitness enthusiasts, athletes, celebrities or perhaps even someone you personally know jump into a bath full of ice after exercising. Some have even referred to ice baths as their ‘lockdown antidote’ during the pandemic. But it may seem a little insane – submerging your body into what’s essentially a pile of freezing cold rocks.
So what exactly do ice baths do to your body, and how beneficial are they to your health? Below, we’ll outline exactly what’s involved when plunging your water into icy cold temperatures, as well as what potential wellness benefits you may experience.
What is ice bath therapy?
Ice bath treatment involves a 10- to 15-minute session of dipping your body into very cold water (10-15°C) after a vigorous exercise session. It is also known as cold water therapy, cryotherapy or cold water immersion.
The science is limited and polarised on the effectiveness of ice baths on human health. This 2017 study and another study published in the same year both suggest that cold water immersion isn’t more effective than active recovery for minimising the inflammatory response in muscles.
But despite the above, the treatment is believed to have a range of benefits for general wellness, ranging from relaxing sore muscles as well as improving your sleep. A more recent study conducted in 2020 demonstrated benefits to volleyball players who used the treatment over a two-week period.
So below, we’ll list five health benefits of ice baths you could potentially enjoy (including some of the scientific research behind it).
5 possible ice bath benefits
If you’re thinking about jumping into cold water treatment, you’re probably thinking are ice baths really worth it. Are the benefits you receive real, or is just the placebo effect?
Thankfully, there are some possible ice bath benefits, especially if you exercise regularly or are an athlete.
Relaxes sore muscles
One of the best things about an ice bath is that they, put very simply, make you feel great! After an intense workout, your muscles will be burning like fire. Jumping into an ice bath no doubt relaxes them, with the cold water providing a well-earned relief to those muscles that have been working hard.
But also, cold water is said to help your blood vessels transfer oxygen to your muscles, thereby removing lactic acidresponsible for causing muscle fatigue. Ice baths may therefore flush out this harmful acid, reducing your swelling and improving your recovery.
Assists the nervous system
By helping your sleep (see below), an ice bath has the potential to assist your central nervous system. After getting better rest, you feel less fatigued and therefore have more energy to smash out a better workout.
In fact, cold water is said to train what’s called your ‘vagus nerve’. This linked with your parasympathetic nervous system. By training this particular nerve, you may find that you can face stressful moments more easily.
Theoretically speaking, reducing the temperature in your body after exercising assist limiting the inflammatory response experienced by your body. By lowering the inflammation throughout your body, you can recover faster.
Boosts your metabolism and immune system
Ice baths are said to be good for your immune system. Cold water may change the behaviour of your fat cells, triggering a process known as ‘thermogenesis’. This is where tissues in your body’s brown fat cells convert energy into heat, maintaining your weight and boosting your immune system.
Cold water immersion is also said to improve your lymphatic system, a system of vessels designed to remove waste from your cells. When your vessels contract from the cold water, your lymphatic system is understood to pump fluids throughout your body and trigger your immune system’s cells to fight unwanted substances present in the fluid.
By submerging your body into icy cold water, your nervous system may be exposed to positive effects (as outlined above). The result is you may enjoy an excellent night’s sleep that night.
Are there any side effects of ice baths?
Some of the consequences of ice baths you may not particularly like are less obvious than others. These include:
- You get really cold (was that obvious? Seriously, if you don’t like the cold, stay away from the ice bath)
- Consequences if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure (the rapid decrease in body temperature brought on by the ice will constrict your blood vessels, which may be dangerous if you’re suffering from a pre-existing cardiovascular illness)
- Hypothermia (so don’t stay in the ice bath for too long)
- Consequences for people with diabetes (a condition, both type 1 and 2, known to be associated with a lowered ability to maintain core temperature when the body undergoes massive temperature changes)
It is important to note that ice bath therapy is unlikely to produce real benefits if you do not undertake the technique correctly.
In one study published in Sports Sciences for Health, a majority of participants submerged into cold water outside of the recommended range of 9-15 degrees Celsius. According to Dr Robert Allan, the lead writer of the paper, spending short periods of time in an ice bath won’t really have any impact on your body’s physiology as your core or muscle temperatures won’t drop far enough.
However, as stated in a 2010 paper, there is still a “lack of evidence with these therapies”, and more research is needed to fully realise “the different hot to cold time ratios, the appropriate mode of contrast treatment and the duration and the optimum water temperature”.
Looking for cold water therapy in Sydney?
If you’re looking for cold water treatment in Sydney, why not try an experience in a cryotherapy chamber?
You may be interested in what ice bath benefits you could experience, but why not get exposure to those benefits withoutthe ice? Rather than being exposed to icy cold water, you’ll get to experience the benefits of cold temperatures without that wetness you’ll get from ice cubes.
Our treatment involves stepping into subzero temperatures and reaping the potential of experiencing pain relief and muscle relief, weight loss, mental clarity and rejuvenated skin.
Reach out to our friendly staff today. We’re based in Sydney’s North Shore and are excited to show you the benefits that cryotherapy can offer.